Prospects for Namibia's independence have dimmed--at least for the foreseeable future.
Observers of the four years of diplomatic talks over Namibia (South-West Africa) do not expect that the Western ''contact group's'' effort to break a negotiating impasse will be successful this year. The mediation group had hoped to see Namibian independence from South Africa by the end of 1982.
Strains between the parties--suspicions between South Africa and the United Nations and between the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and the Reagan administration--are running too deep to allow for a quick resolution of problems in the proposed UN independence plan.
On the surface of things, mediation efforts by the Western contact group (comprised of the United States, Britain, Canada, West Germany, and France) have been blocked by SWAPO's rejection of a two-track voting process for the territory. SWAPO says the procedure is too complicated and aims at protecting ''ethnic rights'' of white minorities.
SWAPO is convinced that the contact group's mediation method--addressing one side's concerns until a roadblock arises, then addressing the other side's--is only leading the parties in circles.
''It gives the public the illusion of movement. But while the diplomatic bird is flapping its wings, it never gets off the ground,'' says an African source close to SWAPO.
Observers note that South Africa, as well as SWAPO, has frustrated the contact group efforts. For four years, in fact, the contact group has sought mainly to accommodate South Africa, which has stalled and sometimes openly defied efforts to reach a settlement.
''It seems a bit unfair to blame SWAPO when, for the first time, it is the one to dig its heels,'' says one Western diplomat.
The UN Namibia independence plan calls for a cease-fire between South Africa and rebel forces, UN-supervised elections, and finally Namibia's independence. The contact group has adopted a two-phase approach to get South Africa and Namibia to agree on ways to implement the UN plan.
Phase 1, which includes the voting system, has run into a snag. So the contact group is proceeding with Phase 2, which addresses South Africa's fears that the UN would favor SWAPO, instead of being impartial, in supervising elections. Phase 2 also addresses South Africa's concerns about the composition of the UN forces (presumably to number about 5,000 men) to be stationed in Namibia during elections.
If South Africa shows flexibility on these points, the contact group would return to Phase 1 and try again to get South Africa to agree to a single voting system or to get SWAPO to accept the double system after all.
Meanwhile SWAPO has requested UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to convene a Geneva-type conference in which SWAPO, South Africa, the contact group , and the front-line states (Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique) would discuss all issues.
''Indeed, SWAPO has come to the conclusion that the Reagan administration is 100 percent on the side of South Africa and will only help bring about a solution for Namibia's independence if it fully satisfies South Africa,'' says one African diplomat.
The front-line states support SWAPO's call for a conference, but have not given up on the contact group's efforts.
Progress by the contact group also is linked to secret bilateral US-Angolan talks. High US officials have met high Angolan officials on several occasions recently, but according to a reliable source, ''Angola is adamant in rejecting the third leg of a package proposed to it by the United States.'' That proposal calls for:
* Independence of Namibia.
* Withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.
* Jonas Savimbi, head of the rebel movement UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) to share power with the present Angolan leadership.
Angola has responded to the two first terms. But ''by insisting that we give Savimbi a piece of the pie, the US is in fact asking us to commit political suicide,'' says one Angolan diplomat.
Informed sources agree that as long as the Reagan administration insists on such a package and as long as Angola rejects it, the efforts of the contact group to get South Africa and SWAPO to agree on minute details will prove futile.
''By placing the Namibian problem in an East-West context, the US has polarized the opposing parties and fulfilled its own prophecies. SWAPO, having nowhere else to turn, has now become more exclusively dependent on the Soviet Union,'' says a Western diplomat.
Monitor correspondent Paul Van Slambrouck reports from Johannesburg: Despite SWAPO's rejection of the contact group's voting plan, there are hints there is still momentum toward a settlement. Talks between Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and South Africa Prime Minister Botha included discussion of Namibia. Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos encouraged Dr. Kaunda to pursue his initiative.
In Namibia, however, there is escalating conflict between SWAPO and South African forces.