In the wake of South Africa's military strikes on targets in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia last week, six nations near South Africa are putting their faith in two things to bring political change in their southernmost neighbor -- international economic sanctions and internal unrest. Meeting here in Zimbabwe's capital last week, the foreign ministers of the six countries, known as the ``front-line states'' -- Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe -- condemned the raids in the strongest terms. They called upon a reluctant international community to impose comprehensive economic sanctions on the government of South Africa.
South Africa raided targets it claims are facilities of the outlawed African National Congress, the most prominent black nationalist group fighting to end white-minority rule in South Africa.
The call for sanctions came from the foreign ministers despite their knowledge that sanctions will almost certainly cause serious setbacks to their own economies.
The six nations see themselves as powerless to oppose South Africa militarily, but are confident that history -- that is, the last 20 months of political unrest in South Africa -- is on their side. Few, if any, of the front-line leaders expect economic sanctions to topple the government of Pieter Botha. But there are some who believe sanctions would accelerate political confrontation.
The view here is that the Botha government is under mounting right-wing pressure at home and that this will push Pretoria into increasingly aggressive actions that are bound to alienate Western powers further. This will result in increased acceptance of the need for economic sanctions.
Front-line leaders insist they will support and impose comprehensive sanctions even if it seriously affects their own economies. Some front-line leaders believe that prospects among Western nations for financial and even military support for their stand against Pretoria have improved dramatically as a result of the attacks.
However, political analysts here doubt this, arguing that very few nations or international relief agencies, upon which the six states might call for assistance during a period of sanctions, are in a strong enough economic position to offer meaningful financial and military assistance.
A further thread in the front-line strategy is the call for a Pan-African military force to provide protection against South Africa. Given the perilous economic state of many African countries, and frequent disagreements over such plans for continent-wide cooperation, this, too, seems unlikely to materialize.
Many analysts here say the hard reality is that the region has precious few strategic options other than calling for sanctions and seeking to intensify pressure against Pretoria at the international level, while providing as much assistance to the liberation movements as possible.
In the view of these six neighbors, South Africa demonstrated its true longterm intentions with the raids. African diplomats here believe it has become almost impossible for major Western powers to continue to oppose economic sanctions. To that extent, the front-line nations believe the raids have brought an important diplomatic victory for them.
A number of political analysts in the region are inclined to argue that their countries will suffer whatever happens in South Africa -- barring reconciliation, which is a very remote prospect.
That being so, they say, the sooner the log jam begins to move and the more momentum it can be given, the shorter and possibly less damaging might be the transition period for the entire region.