Despite S. Africa Changes, Namibia Is Not Yet Free

NAMIBIA is Africa's newest nation, independent for 15 months. Yet it is still threatened by South Africa's aggressive policies. Namibia's only deep-water harbor, Walvis Bay, remains under illegal South African control, making a sham of Namibian independence.Walvis Bay was an official part of South West Africa (the colonial name of Namibia) until August 1977, when Pretoria announced that Walvis Bay was no longer part of Namibia. This declaration was illegitimate; Walvis Bay has been rightfully linked with the independence of Namibia and has been the focal point of international discourse. The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 432 of 1978, unanimously decreed that Walvis Bay is an integral part of independent Namibia. In 1989, the Namibian people reaffirmed their decision when their representatives unanimously adopted Namibia's first Constitution, which reiterates Namibia's inherent right to Walvis Bay. Yet, Pretoria ardently refuses to comply with world opinion. In March 1991, Theo-Ben Gurirab, the Namibian foreign minister, met in Cape Town with his South African counterpart, Roelof (Pik) Botha. Although both delegations are to be congratulated for having met at all, the differences between the two were so great that productive diplomacy was impossible. The Namibian delegation reaffirmed Namibia's inherent right to Walvis Bay and its commitment to abide by the UN Resolution 432. The South Africans claimed without justification that Namibian "chiefs" gave South Africa sovereignty over Walvis Bay in the late 1890s. This diplomatic initiative signaled, however, a new rapprochement between South Africa and the rest of Africa with respect to regional issues. Despite the fact that the meeting ended in a deadlock, both delegations agreed to consult with their respective governments and return to the bargaining table. Reasonable questions to ask are, whether the Namibian and South African governments will settle for a joint administration when they reconvene, and what this process will mean to the region. Pretoria has used Walvis Bay in the past for a bargaining chip. In a speech given in 1982, South African President P. W. Botha stated categorically that Walvis Bay would only be returned to a "friendly" Namibian government. Botha's intention was to blackmail a truly independent Namibia with the loss of export earnings. Namibians find the implied threat unacceptable, as does the international community which lobbied tooth and nail for the UN-sponsored independence of Namibia. P. W. Botha's successor, Frederik de Klerk, still holds onto Walvis Bay, though for slightly different reasons. Afrikaner hard-liners are appalled that South Africa relinquished its illegal occupation of Namibia. To pacify them, President De Klerk retains control of Walvis Bay, making Namibia a hostage of his whims. Ninety percent of Namibia's food comes from South Africa. Keeping Walvis Bay cuts off Namibia's access to world markets because the majority of Namibia's imports go through Walvis Bay. Thus, Pretoria effectively controls Namibia's economy. While Pretoria's stranglehold perpetuates Namibia's decades-long economic dependence on South Africa, De Klerk temporarily appeases his conservative critics. Pretoria gave up Namibia, making the world community think that South Africa is changing rapidly. Yet, beneath the perceived change lay deceit. "Don't you worry about Namibia's independence," De Klerk tells right-wing pundits, "we still have Walvis Bay." South Africa cannot give up Walvis Bay without facing a revolt from the Conservative Party. The demise of communism and cessation of the Angolan civil war have taken the ball out of South Africa's hand. Pretoria's illegal occupation of Walvis Bay will be dear. Walvis Bay is 1,500 kilometers from Cape Town. Maintaining expensive military and administrative outposts at this remote enclave along the Namibian coast will cost South Africa millions of rand. It will also tarnish recent successes by the Pretoria government to rejoin the world community. Since South Africa feeds Namibia's populace, it is not in the interests of Namibia to act against Pretoria. Neighboring countries such as Angola, Botswana, and Zambia are unable to import food because they are either landlocked states dependent on South African ports or else civil strife has devastated their economies. While it will take many years for reconstruction of regional economies, the re-integration of Walvis Bay into Namibia would hasten the process by lessening the region's dependence on South African ports. Ironically, economic recovery in southern Africa would benefit South Africa in the long term by opening up a larger regional market for its products. Pretoria must come to grips with the realities of the modern world. The best long-term interests of South Africa would be served by giving up Walvis Bay, especially if the South Africans want to win respectability and membership in the Southern African Development Cooperation Conference in its post-apartheid period. The more Pretoria waits, the more new problems arise. Even if the Namibian and South African governments work out an interim joint administrative treaty for Walvis Bay, Pretoria eventually must return Walvis Bay to Namibia. Then Namibia's independence could begin to move away from the present travesty to the needed creation of an independent, economically vigorous state. Giving back Walvis Bay to Namibia now will further demonstrate that South Africa's path to change is sincere and irreversible.

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