Stemming the Soviets in southern Africa

This is an unusually sensitive and critical time in the affairs of southern Africa. For policymakers, the moment is delicate. Missteps and miscalculations are likely and ought to be avoided. If Americans have learned anything in Africa in recent years, it is that there are no shortcuts to success in the policy exercise, especially as regards the dangerous zone in southern Africa, from Zaire southward.

The US State Department has apparently developed a new set of policy guidelines which take account of these general considerations. They differ in tone, at least, from President Reagan's expressed views. In a televised interview in March the President spoke warmly of South Africa. The State Department has now expressed itself with more caution. South African apartheid has been condemned, and the importance of seeking peaceful settlement of the Namibian conflict has been acknowledged.

But there are contradictory signals, too. The most important is the determination of this administration to repeal the Clark amendment, which prohibits covert military assistance to insurgents in Angola.

What happens in Angola intimately affects the future of Namibia, South Africa , and all of southern Africa. Moreover, until there is an internationally validated conclusion to the conflict in Namibia, the presumed twin global objectives of the new US administration cannot be achieved. Those aims are: to lessen or eliminate Soviet influence in Africa; to send home the 20,000 Cubans in Angola.

Until a few months ago it was possible to be confident about the failure of the Soviet Union in southern Africa. After the independence of Zimbabwe, Soviet influence through the region was lessened by the decision of both Angola and Mozambique to strengthen their ties to the West and by the support of the West for a fair settlement of the Namibian question.

The only standing that the Soviet Union now retains in the cockpit of southern Africa results directly from the stalemate in Namibia and the lack of credible change in South Africa. Any American moves which deter a rapid settlement of the Namibian question, and anything that smacks of support for South Africa, are therefore certainly bound to be counterproductive. They give the Soviets credibility.They give a bear with a bedraggled reputation new claws and a new reason for flexing its muscles. Indeed, the seeming tilt of the new administration toward South Africa, and toward UNITA in Angola, has already needlessly propped up a Soviet threat which had tottered, if not fallen.

There is no advantage to be gained in terms of American foreign policy, or even in terms of Republican ideology (or conservative ideology), from a repeal of the Clark amendment. To do so would be a commitment to myths of the past rather than a real response to the needs of the present.

We can best help southern Africans achieve the kind of peace and prosperity which we and they want for the region and its inhabitants, and simultaneously diminish Soviet influence by:

1. Helping Zimbabwe to meet its own developmental goals. If Zimbabwe is (and it can be) a model of multiracial growth in the heart of southern Africa, and if the lesson of Zimbabwe is to prove capable of guiding South Africans, then we will want to assist Zimbabwe's planned reconstruction of its war-ravaged rural areas and assist in its Operation Bootstrap for peasant farmers.

Zimbabwe has chosen an incentive-based, non-Marxist answer to its problems of income inequality, pent-up black demand, and pre-independence rhetoric. If those answers are to serve the nation successfully, they need sustained support over many years. It is profoundly in our own interest, as well as in the interest of Africa, that we should do so.

2. For the same reasons, but also because Angola and Mozambique are anxious to move away from their Marxist beginnings, it is crucial that we support them.

3. We should also help Zambia and the smaller nations of the region. This is the moment when Africa is swinging back profoundly from its flirtation with Soviet Marxism. Poland and Afghanistan have only deepened the cynicism of Africa. For us to push Africans back again in the opposite direction by statements and actions which are ill considered is both foolish and counter-productive.

4. The choice is just as clear with regard to South Africa, although American policy cannot act so directly and with consequence in that sphere. An embrace of the tendencies within South Africa which are less, rather than more, reformist emboldens the Soviets. It disheartens Africans and enhances their frustrations.

Most of all, it dampens the ardor of reform within Afrikanerdom itself. It isolates those with verligtem or enlightened tendencies. It comforts those who argue that change is unnecessary. It increases the possibility of internal violence and undercuts the very forces which have for the past few years gathered strength for an evolution-led process of political realignment. Anything which implies that we are not as interested as before in concentrating the minds of South Africa on its own problems, and that we are not anxious to accelerate the forces of evolution, will act against the interest of the West in Africa and in the world.

Surely, the lessons of Zimbabwe are clear: that there is a time to negotiate and a time when it is too late to negotiate well; that internal settlements only accelerate the day of reckoning; that there is no substitute for legitimacy; that the responsibility of office supersedes the rhetoric of a revolution; and, for South Africa in particular, that time can never be bought. The clock ticks, and as it ticks, the available options become fewer and fewer.

It is the role of American foreign policy to help South Africans focus upon their own mutual self-interest, not to persuade them that their problems can be avoided or solutions evade d.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Stemming the Soviets in southern Africa
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today