Namibia: new US-Pretoria plan?

All signs to the Reagan administration having gotten the South African government's agreement to a revised plan for independence for Namibia (South-West Africa).

US and South African delegations ended two days of secret talks on the plan in Zurich Sept. 22 and headed immediately for home.

The unanswered question is whether South Africa, this time around, is irrevocably committed to early implementation of the plan or is merely stringing the US along in an effort either to play for time or to shelve indefinitely independence for Namibia.

If the US can "deliver" South Africa on the basis of the revised plan and secure early independence for Namibia, it will be a foreign-policy triumph for President Reagan justifying his swing to a more sympathetic attitude to white-run South Africa than was US policy during the Carter years.

Some analysts argue that South Africa is unlikely again to have as friendly an administration in the US as Mr. Reagan's, and that South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha will therefore see the advantage of negotiating a Namibian settlement while Mr. Reagan is in the White House.

Other analysts doubt whether Mr. Botha feels he can risk any independence plan for Namibia that leaves the door open for a takeover there by the most militant and best-organized black nationalist group in the territory, SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization). The revised plan apparently keeps that door open.

South Africa backed away earlier this year from the original plan painstakingly negotiated among the parties involved by a five-man Western "contact group" (the US, Canada, Britain, France, and West Germany) representing the UN Security Council. The revisions now apparently agreed in Zurich are concessions to South Africa aimed at getting South African approval to give Namibia independence early in 1983.

The concessions have still to be sold to the fellow "contact" states of the US, to SWAPO, and to SWAPO's backers in the front-line African states bordering on Namibia and South Africa.

US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., already at the UN for the current session of the General Assembly, is expected to report forthwith to the representatives there of the other Western contact sales.

Leaks in South Africa indicate that the revised plan includes these concessions to South Africa:

* The international force to supervise elections -- after a cease-fire between SWAPO guerrillas and the South African defense forces -- will be drawn from the Western contact group countries plus only one African state: Nigeria. (South Africa does not trust third-world countries.)

* The force will serve under the UN flag, but will wear their national uniforms, avoiding the traditional blue berets or helmets of other UN peace-keeping forces. (This is aimed at South Africa's questioning of the genuine impartiality of the UN, since the UN General Assembly is on record as recognizing SWAPO as the sole legitimate voice of African nationalism in Namibia.)

* After the cease-fire and during the election, SWAPO guerrillas will be concentrated in bases not within Namibia -- as originally proposed -- but on the Angola side of the Angola-Namibia border and subject to international monitoring there. (South Africa has always feared that SWAPO guerrillas still within Namibia could sway any election to SWAPO and away from South Africa's preferred candidate to run the territory, the white-dominated Democratic Turnhalle Alliance -- a South African puppet in most African and third-world eyes.)

* Cuban troops in Angola would be withdrawn northward from the Namibian border behind a "red line" still to be established.

* While a full constitution for Namibia would still not be drafted until after the election, SWAPO and the other parties to the revised agreement would commit themselves to ensuring that after independence, property and political rights would be guaranteed to Namibia's whites (11 percent of the population).

To most outsiders, these may seem fairly generous concessions to South African sensitivities. But in the climate of opinion in today's white South Africa -- feeling increasingly embattled and lonely in the face of militant black nationalism within and without -- Prime Minister Botha could still have problems in convincing his own hard-liners that these terms are the best South Africa is ever likely to get, if that is indeed what he genuinely intends to try to do.

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