MOZAMBIQUE and South Africa today signed a nonaggression pact which promises to transform the political and economic configuration of southern Africa. Until the signing, Mozambique's only other international treaty of friendship was with the Soviet Union.
Until today, too, Mozambique sheltered anti-South African guerrillas, and South Africa sponsored armed attacks against the Marxist government of its neighbor.
The pledges of nonaggression which have now been exchanged are meant to turn a zone of war into a region of peace.
Until negotiations between South Africa and Mozambique were successfully concluded earlier this year, Mozambique had steadfastly backed the campaign of aggression which the African National Congress (ANC) had been waging against white control of South Africa since 1977. (Founded in 1912 in South Africa, the ANC was driven underground and into exile in 1960.)
From bases in Mozambique, ANC guerrillas crossed into South Africa and sabotaged industrial or military installations. In the 1980s, successful penetrations and attacks by the ANC increased in number and severity about one hundredfold. So did the popular appeal of the ANC to South Africa's 25 million blacks.
In retaliation, South Africa raided buildings in and near Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, which were alleged to have housed the ANC.
Several years ago South Africa also adopted a shadowy ex-Rhodesian and ex-Portuguese mercenary movement and gave it training, arms, and logistical support. Now called Renamo, or the Mozambique Resistance Movement, this force of about 6,000 men has successfully threatened the integrity of the government of President Samora Machel's Mozambique.
Renamo has weakened his control of nine of the country's 10 provinces. Mozambique's own Army has been unable to contain the spread of such a powerful, externally supported force. Fragile and poor before, the war with Renamo has become a war for the very survival of President Machel's regime.
Soviet help against South Africa and Renamo has been found wanting. So has Soviet economic assistance in the face of the Indian Ocean country's increasing impoverishment. Socialism has brought little growth, many shortages, and decay.
Furthermore, the drought which has paralyzed much of southern Africa for two years has compelled Mozambique to use scarce foreign exchange to import maize, the staple of most of its 14 million people. An unusual cyclone, or hurricane, in late January wreaked additional havoc in the southern part of the country, relieving the drought but destroying roads, bridges, railways, and harbor installations.
Mozambique sued for peace and asked for economic help. Spared guerrilla attack, power is already flowing from the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric facility on the Zambezi River. South Africa has promised to help restore tourist facilities for whites and to send them in the numbers that Mozambique can absorb. It has also offered to help restore destroyed facilities. Most of all, it says that support for Renamo will end.
Mozambique may have exchanged a Soviet for a South African patron. If so, South Africa may achieve the freedom from guerrilla attack that its white government desires. The absence of war, when realized, should be welcomed throughout the region, if not necessarily by the blacks within South Africa. They will have to defer dreams of liberation.
When coupled with the recently achieved cease-fire in Angola and the weakening there of Soviet and Cuban forces, this week's reconciliation between Mozambique and South Africa could, providing it is nurtured and sustained, lead to a more stable and prosperous southern Africa. But such a result need not hasten political reform in South Africa itself.