South Africa and a high-level United Nations delegation have reached a tentative agreement on how to implement the UN peace plan for Namibia (South-West Africa).
The South African government is reported to have agreed to allow Namibia to become independent before the end of 1981.
A mission led by Brian Urquhart, UN undersecretary-general for special political affairs, to South Africa's capital of Pretoria and to Windhoek, Namibia's capital, resulted in a breakthrough, according to diplomats close to the process.
However, many diplomatic loose ends remain to be tied up before UN forces actually can be deployed in mineral-rich Namibia and before elections take place in that territory leading to its independence.
Several times in the past, the negotiations have come to a virtual halt when misunderstandings arose or new demands were injected.
Nevertheless, an all-parties preliminary conference, in the style of the 1979 London Lancaster House conference on Rhodesia's independence -- but hosted by the United Nations -- is expected to meet in the near future. It presumably would work but compromises on various points of procedure and pave the way for a full-fledged Namibia conference next year. That conference would seek an end to the guerrilla war between the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) and South Africa.
Direct talks between South Africa and Angola (which borders on Namibia) held in Paris last month, also have been productive and contributed to an easing of the diplomatic impasse on Namibia, according to the same high-level sources.
After 2 1/2 years of what are regarded here as procrastination and evasions, South Africa reportedly has dropped practically all its objections to the UN plan worked out by five Western nations (the United States, Canada West Germany, France, and Britain) and approved by the Security Council through its Resolution 435 of December 1978.
As a result of assurances and details given to South Africa by Mr. Urquhart's mission on the deployment of UN forces in Namibia, South Africa now demands only that "a climate of mutual confidence be established between itself and the UN." Analysts here point out that this represents a considerable concession on the part of South Africa.
"If, as some skeptics still believe, South Africa is only seeking to delay a final decision once more, ti would find it very difficult to renege on its commitment and to reject the UN plan, for lack of a good excuse," says one analyst. "It would make it nearly impossible for the five Western nations to shield South Africa from sanctions which the African nations would then want to impose on it."
Some thorny questions remain to be settled, however, before the proposed all-parties conference can meet:
* How representatives of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (locally elected parties not considered legitimate by the UN but supported by Pretoria) will be seated at the conference. One solution would be to seat them as members of South Africa's delegation.
* The exact purpose of the conference. The black and North African nations want it to be centered only around the implementation of the UN plan. South Africa wants it to settle problems dealing with the future rights of the white minority and with South Africa's security and economic interests in Namibia as well.
"These difficulties can be overcome and compromises may be reached in a matter of weeks," according to a Western diplomat close to the negotiations. There seems indeed to be a strong desire both on the part of South African and of the six "frontline states" (Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique) to settle the matter once and for all.
The initial reaction of President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who presides over teh standing group of the frontline states, is reported to be less than enthusiastic. But there is reason to believe, based on past experience, that after an initial display of suspicion, the frontline nations will agree to attend an all-parties conference which, it is hoped, will be the starting point of the process leading to Namibia's independence.
Essentially, according to reliable diplomats, South Africa and SWAPO now are ready to sit down, face to face, at an allparties conference and reach an agreement. SWPAO, which is almost sure to play a leading role in Namibia after its independence, will be asked to provide South Africa with some guarantees regarding its interests and to allow the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance to play a role as well.
This, it is believed here, would enable the South African government to mollify its right-wing whites who might otherwise accuse it of having handed Namibia over to "terrorists."