South Africa may have plans to continue its occupation of Namibia (South-West Africa) for another two years. This, according to an informed sources, is the secret timetable given to internal political parties in the disputed territory. During this period, they will be working to build up their own political base to counter the exiled South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO), which is fighting a guerilla war for control of the territory.
The United Nations has been pressing for South Africa to relinquish control of the vast, mineral-rich territory on Africa's southwestern coast. In 1978, South Africa agreed to a complex plan to steer Namibia to independence. But the plan has yet to be implemented.
A number of observers blame South Africa for the delay, charging it with trying to prevent SWAPO from coming to power in elections without international supervision. The South African government, however, argues that the UN -- which has declared SWAPO the "sole authentic representative of the Namibian people" -- is biased and must establish its neutrality before elections can take place. South Africa also berates SWAPO as a stalking horse for the Soviet Union, which it says wants to gain control of Namibia's vast mineral wealth.
The UN General Assembly is now debating the imposition of mandatory economic sanctions against South Africa to force a resolution of the Namibian dispute. If the United States should veto sanctions in the UN Security Council -- as it is widely expected to do -- there could be a clash with many African and nonaligned states, including Nigeria (the No. 2 oil exporter to the US).
There is, on the surface, little movement on the Namibian issue. That is mostly attributable to the fact that South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha is involved in an election campaign. He does not want to give his right-wing opposition a ready-made campaign issue, namely the alleged "sellout" of Namibia's 120,000 whites (out of a population of approximately 1 million,) by allowing majority-rule elections in the territory now, when many observers are predicting a SWAPO victory.
However, a number of observers here say various behind-the-scenes moves are under way to enhance the position of the antiSWAPO forces inside Namibia -- and to weaken SWAPO itself.
Andre du Pisani, a political scientist at the University of South Africa, says the internal political parties arrayed against SWAPO are working to "consolidate the political center" among Namibian voters, in order to counter the left-leaning SWAPO.
The main internal party, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, (DTA), is in the process of rewriting its party policy, says Professor du Pisani. The new policy document, he predicts, may be somewhat "radical" in comparison to the present one. It will underplay the ethnic differences among the territory's people, he predicts, and provide for "more black faces" in the upper echelons of the DTA leadership. At the same time, he says, the South African government presence in the territory -- personified by Administrator General Danie Hough -- will be scaled down, and Mr. Hough will become less involved in the day-to-day running of governmental affairs. And, he adds, a DTA-dominated "council of ministers" will probably take on more governmental powers in an effort to improve its standing among the electorate.
Meanwhile, the South African military is attempting to "Namibianize" the war by drawing more of the territory's residents into the South-West African Defense Force --nominally a territorial force, but at present an extension of the South African Army. In some areas, according to South African military spokesmen, fully 80 percent of the fighting forces are drawn from the indigenous black population.
The South African Army is also pushing to step up strikes against SWAPO bases in Angola, say a number of sources, in the belief that SWAPO is "on the run." Since direct attacks would undoubtedly bring worldwide criticism, experts say there has been increased use of elite battalions operating inside Angola to destabilize SWAPO. Parachuting into Angola, these troops disrupt SWAPO supply lines and launch preemptive strikes against SWAPO cadres encountered in the southern part of the country.
There are reports that one such unit -- the 32nd battalion, or so-called Buffalo Battalion --southern Angola. One diplomat says these reports are somewhat "overblown" but says there probably have been "some misdeeds" by the unit.
The South African tactic of preemptive strikes is said to have been inspired by Israel's methods of dealing with Palestinian guerrillas. Indeed, one source says Israeli military officers have recently visited Namibia and counseled the South Africans on the feasibility of a UN peace-keeping force patrolling a proposed demilitarized zone in the war-torn northern part of the territory while elections are held. The visit may have raised doubts about implementation of the UN independence plan, according to one well-informed observer.
Meanwhile, Professor du Pisani says the South African government has not given up the idea of direct negotiations with the Angolan government over the Namabian conflict. Earlier talks between the two states --reportedly held in Paris late last year -- were inconclusive.
However, Professor du Pisani suggests that the South African government would like to open up trade with Angola, supplying it with basic commodities and technical advisers. South Africa's current trade agreement with Mozambique -- in which the South Africans virtually control Mozambican railways and the harbor at Maputo -- would provide a model.
The Angolans, in return, would be expected to withdraw their support of SWAPO and scale down the Cuban presence in their country. Currently, there are an estimated 22,000 Cuban troops in Angola.