Calming White Fears in Namibia


THE 75,000 or so whites who dominate the economy of this mineral-rich territory are facing the imminent prospect of independence with less anxiety than they showed 10 years ago. In 1978, some 30,000 left Namibia when a UN-sponsored plan for independence was first accepted by South Africa. Pretoria later backed out.

Now, most whites are taking a wait-and-see approach to an independent government. Many hope the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) - Namibia's socialist-leaning liberation group - will not win an outright victory in the November ballot, but will be forced to seek allies among more moderate groups.

For its part, SWAPO has begun to stress national reconciliation both to placate white fears about nationalization and redistribution of farm land, and to raise black hopes of better social services, more jobs, and land.

Hidipo Hamutenya, SWAPO's powerful information secretary, says redistribution of land will depend on adequate compensation and maintenance of current productivity levels.

``There will be no wholesale nationalization,'' he said in an interview. ``That is the guarantee we give'' the whites. This would also apply to mines and major industries, he said.

Although SWAPO president Sam Nujoma has repeatedly assured whites that there is a role for them in an independent Namibia and that a SWAPO government would not impose a one-party state, many whites still hope SWAPO will be defeated.

The results of the first nationwide survey of Namibian attitudes, published last week, show that more whites (73 percent) are hopeful about the future than blacks (57 percent).

``But about a third of whites indicated they were ready to leave after independence if things don't work out,'' said Heribert Wieland, director of the Arnold-Bergstraesser Institute in West Germany, which conducted the survey.

Three factors have made whites think twice about quitting the territory.

First, the 10 years since the UN plan was first adopted have already seen the gradual scrapping of segregation laws and the introduction of blacks into the country's internal administration, run under Pretoria's watchful eye.

Second, the image of South Africa as a safe haven for whites has been dramatically eroded. It is now clear that South Africa has embarked on a course of compromise with the black majority.

Namibian whites - who represent some 7 percent of Namibia's 1.2 million people - fear that they will face political and economic discrimination under a black majority government.

These fears have been intensified by SWAPO's socialist rhetoric and disclosures that the guerrilla group detained and tortured racial minorities in its prison camps in Angola and Zambia.

A recent wave of political violence, including the assassination of the most senior white member of SWAPO - lawyer Anton Lubowski - has fueled fears of escalating political violence.

Some whites derive consolation from the fact that an independent Namibian government will be heavily dependent on Pretoria's continued control of the only deep-sea port in the South African enclave of Walvis Bay.

Pretoria will also control rail and road access from the south and will be well-placed to set terms for continued contributions to the Namibian national budget.

``Never in history has a colonial power had its hands so firmly on the levers of power during a transition to independence,'' says a Windhoek lawyer.

Third, Namibia's wealthy commercial farmers and businessmen realize the economic potential of an independent Namibia under a pragmatic government.

``Once there is a sensible and stable government a lot of investment will take place in the mining, fishing, and agricultural sectors,'' said Jan Engelbrecht, a corn and cattle farmer near the northern town of Grootfontein.

Mr. Engelbrecht, an Afrikaner and native of Namibia, has no thoughts of leaving.

``Since April 1, only three of the 350 farmers in the Grootfontein area have left for South Africa,'' he said. ``And I wouldn't be surprised if they are back within a year or two.''

Engelbrecht, a supporter of the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance Party (DTA), has played a pioneering role in allowing all parties to campaign on his farm. According to Wieland's survey, 74 percent of whites support the DTA, as compared with 80 percent of blacks who support SWAPO.

Retaining the confidence of farmers will be a crucial factor in determining how whites react to independence. Apart from mining and fishing, agriculture is the backbone of the Namibian economy. The 4,000 or so white commercial farmers employ some 70 percent of the labor force.

``Farmers are an important productive sector,'' Hamutenya said. ``We would want to have a good understanding with them and would want them to have a sense of security and confidence in the future.''

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