The 49-member Commonwealth ended a week-long summit in the Bahamas Oct. 23 after averting a possible split between Britain and its former colonies with a technical agreement on South Africa. ``This is the reality of forging harmony out of difference,'' said Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal, who described the bienniel Commonwealth conference that ended here last week as ``one of the best ever.''
After five days of hard bargaining the Commonwealth agreed to voluntary sanctions against South Africa if its white minority government fails to start dismantling apartheid within six months.
It failed to adopt the mandatory sanctions that most member states had called for in an effort to force Pretoria to abandon its policy of racial separation.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher successfully resisted sanctions and made clear she was unlikely to support any further punitive measures.
Over the next few weeks, the Commonwealth will name a four- or five-member ``group of eminent persons'' to promote a political dialogue between whites and blacks in the country aimed at abolishing apartheid.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has already been contacted about joining this group, and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Frazer and retiring Tanazanian President Julius Nyerere have also been mentioned as potential members.
A final communiqu'e issued at the end of the summit said the Commonwealth's plan of action, agreed last week, will be equally directed toward achieving the independence of South African-ruled Namibia (South West Africa).
The organization implicitly criticized the Reagan administration's approach to the problem by rejecting attempts to link Namibian independence to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from neighboring Angola.
It also stated that the administration's ``constructive engagement'' had failed as a technique to achieve both this goal and the dismantling of apartheid.
Turning to other issues, the Commonwealth communiqu'e welcomed the reactivation of bilateral arms talks between the United States and the Soviet Union and urged the two superpowers to prevent an extension of the arms race into outer space.
The organization, which groups one-third of the world's countries and a quarter of its population, expressed concern at ``the continuing difficult world economic situation and its impact on developing countries.''
The next summit of Commonwealth nations is planned to be held in Canada in 1987, possibly in Vancouver.