S. Africa's Angola raid seen as muscle-flexing exercise

South Africa's latest raid into Angola is seen as an effort to forestall an invasion into Namibia by rebels. Such an invasion would have further shaken confidence in the South African government by fostering the impression that South Africa is being attacked on two ``fronts,'' says Prof. Deon Fourie of the University of South Africa. The first ``front'' is South Africa's townships, where blacks have been rebelling for more than a year. The second would be Namibia (South-West Africa).

Monday's raid into Angola was the third since the South African government announced its withdrawal of all troops at the end of April, a withdrawal that Angola denies took place. Namibia is administered by South Africa in defiance of the United Nations.

The South African Defense Force (SADF) has not commented on the cross-border operation since its brief initial announcement. But Professor Fourie -- who has close ties with SADF officers -- was unimpressed by conjecture in diplomatic circles that the real purpose of the incursion was to help the Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, fend off an assault by Angolan government troops.

Dr. Savimbi's organization receives support from South Africa in its continuing fight against the Angolan government.

Gen. Constand Viljoen, chief of the SADF, said, the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO), the Namibian guerrillas ``planned stand-off bombardments on military bases and soft targets. SWAPO also intended to attack larger towns and residential areas in [Namibia].''

The decision to launch the raid was made after the capture of two SWAPO fighters on an intelligence-reconnaissance mission, said Gen. Ian Gleeson, the chief of staff of the SADF.

The desire to forestall the offensive with a preventive raid on SWAPO bases in Angola outweighed the disadvantages of incurring the displeasure of the United States, Professor Fourie argued. The US had been partly mollified by South Africa's decision last week to restore citizenship to some blacks, and the recommendation by a government panel to scrap influx control laws, which regulate where blacks can live, work, and travel.

Suspicion that the real purpose for the incusion was to help take the pressure off Savimbi's rebels was fueled by two factors.

One was that SWAPO incursions usually occur during the rainy months -- December, January, and February -- when the grass and bush have grown sufficiently for the insurgents to cover their tracks and hide from pursuing security forces. Another factor is that the South African troops are supported by the Air Force. One diplomat felt this was unnecessary if the purpose was really to hunt down and kill small bands of SWAPO guerrillas.

President Pieter Botha faces five critical by-elections against the ultra-right-wing Conservative and Reconstituted National parties in the next months.

Tough action against SWAPO will be to his advantage. Surveys by the South African Institute of International Affairs show that the white electorate strongly approves tough action in foreign affairs.

Judging from reports in the South African press, Savimbi -- whom Pretoria would love to see in an Angolan government of national unity -- is under considerable pressure.

The Johannesburg Sunday Star reported last weekend, ``The tide has turned [against] Savimbi. The decisive factors have been better troop training [of the Angolan army], partly by Portuguese counterinsurgency specialists, and a thorough restructuring of the Angolan Air Force.''

Professor Fourie, however, rejected the view that it would have been easier -- and less risky in terms of international condemnation -- for South African soldiers to have ambushed the SWAPO fighters on the Namibian side of the border.

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