ONE of the few issues uniting the nations of black Africa is their hatred of apartheid. It is therefore surprising how many of them, while denouncing the major Western powers for failing to impose economic sanctions against Pretoria, continue to maintain a wide array of trade relations with South Africa. Indeed, a recently published European study concluded that at least 49 of 51 African states conduct some form of business with South Africa. In southern Africa, the magnitude of this activity is a matter of public record. According to the latest available statistics, Zambia, Malawi, Zaire, and Zimbabwe import well over half their products from South Africa; for Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana the figure comes to close to 100 percent.
What is less well known, however, is the extent to which some southern African countries have planned to benefit from Western sanctions against South Africa. The Zambian government, which takes great pains to criticize the West for its supposed support of apartheid, reportedly stands to reap considerable profits if there is a withdrawal of South African Airways landing rights in the United States, Western Europe, and Australia. Travel sources in Johannesburg claim there is a contingency plan for South African Airways to lease up to three Boeing 747s to Zambia and furnish South African crews to operate new international flights. The aircraft involved will be flown with Zambian Airways colors. A similar arrangement already exists with Swaziland.
On a broader level, Swaziland appears willing and able to act as a transshipment point and outlet for its hard-pressed neighbor. Already, there are 87 South African companies with offices in Matsapha, many of which can legally label their products with the words ``Manufactured in the Kingdom of Swaziland.'' Doing business through Swaziland also gives these companies access to the European Economic Community and the Commonwealth.
Farther north, the actions of many African governments are equally contradictory. In a display of anger and frustration, the Republic of Kenya refused to allow its athletic team to participate in this year's Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh to protest Britain's refusal to sever economic relations with South Africa. Meanwhile, Kenya collects up to $50 million annually in landing and refueling fees from British Airways, El Al, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Iberia Air Lines, Olympic Airways, and Swissair for the right to transit Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi en route to Johannesburg from Western Europe.
In a similar vein, the Weekly Review, an influential East African newsmagazine, recently revealed that a health food store was selling fruit from South Africa; the words ``Produce of South Africa'' on the cans had apparently been covered over with price tags and paper strips. This is a common practice throughout sub-Saharan Africa, involving such countries as Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, the Ivory Coast, Malawi, Central African Republic, and Gabon.
To avoid the appearance of trading with South Africa, these countries use double invoicing and false certificates of origin. Like many other African countries, Kenya also imported South African maize when the 1984 drought raised the specter of famine over vast stretches of its countryside.
Apart from these economic contacts, many Western analysts believe that South Africa, the world's 10th-largest arms producer, exports weapons to more than 30 African nations.
Somalia represents a typical case. After visiting the country at the end of 1984, the South African minister of foreign affairs concluded an agreement with its government whereby South African Airways gained landing and overflight rights in exchange for military equipment and training. Subsequently South Africa gained access to an unspecified air base and the port of Berbera.
South Africa has also shipped arms to Morocco for use in the Western Sahara. Sometime at the end of 1985 or the beginning of 1986, a team of South African officers visited Moroccan military schools, parts of the Western Sahara under Moroccan control, and the Moroccan-built defensive walls in the Western Sahara. In addition, the team inspected the functioning of arms delivered by South Africa.
Because of the unwillingness or inability of so many African countries to break their economic and military ties with South Africa, it hardly seems appropriate for the West to allow its policies to be influenced by expressions of moral outrage emanating from Lusaka, Nairobi, or Lagos. But even more important, recent posturing by some African governments to profit from sanctions against South Africa indicates the futility of trying to end apartheid by economic intimidation.
Should the Western powers ignore these realities and sever their links with Pretoria, it is a virtual certainty that, except for the chaos they themselves create, business between South Africa and the rest of the continent will continue pretty much as usual.
Thomas P. Ofcansky is an African affairs specialist with the Center for Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education at Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.