There are signs that South Africa's historic nonaggression pact with its Marxist-ruled neighbor, Mozambique, may fail to make its first birthday -- March 16. Should the pact fall by the wayside, Pretoria's effort to create what some call a constellation of black client states in the region would suffer a major blow -- as would negotiations for a settlement in Namibia (South-West Africa), a territory that South Africa has administered since the close of World War II.
Against this background, the Reagan administration recently pledged ``nonlethal'' military assistance and food aid worth $15 million to Mozambique. Contrary to expectations, the rebels of the Renamo movement (formerly known as the Mozambique National Resistance) have achieved remarkable advances since the signing by South Africa and Mozambique 11 months ago of the Accord of Nkomati -- a pact designed, in part, to end Renamo's activities. Prior to the signing, South Africa had financed -- and many say trained -- Renamo forces.
Renamo has largely cut off road and rail communications around Mozambique's capital, Maputo. The rebels destroyed a bridge in the south of the country Jan. 25, severing rail links with South Africa. And they attacked power lines into the capital, depriving it of electricity for the seventh time in two months. The rebels have as many as 18,000 to 20,000 members, almost matching the strength of Mozambique's Army. Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say scores of Mozambican refugees are fleeing rebel activity by crossing into Zimbabwe.
Jorge Correia, a Lisbon-based Renamo spokesman, claimed last week that unless Mozambican President Samora Machel denounces the Accord of Nkomati soon, he could face a revolt from within the ranks of his ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo). His assessment is partially shared by Western diplomats here.
Accounts reaching Lisbon tell of growing discontent among Frelimo's radical wing, which is led by Army strong man Gen. Armando Guebuza and Marcelino dos Santos, the secretary for economic affairs. This pro-Soviet faction considers the accord a serious error and calls for use of guerrilla tactics against the rebels.
The faction suggests that Machel will have to either seriously reassess the accord by its first anniversary or face substantial challenges within the party.
Meanwhile South Africa has taken action to keep it alive. It summoned a Renamo official two weeks ago to try to force a cease-fire. And South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha secretly traveled to several East African countries to urge them to stop supporting Renamo.
But the rebels insist on several preconditions before making a deal. They say they want public recognition from Mozambique and a commitment to free presidential elections. They describe themselves as pro-Western, champion a mixed economy, and demand an end to Marxist influence in government.