S. Africa's neighbors find sanctions are easier said than done

Newspapers here call Pretoria ``the apartheid regime.'' A recent headline, on a story about disinvestment by foreign companies in South Africa, chortled: ``More firms to ditch racists.''

But the hotels serve South African wine, the newspaper shops sell South African candies, and Lusaka Airport welcomes South African airliners.

These are merely the more superficial complications facing Zambia and its fellow southern African states as they try to determine how to make good on their public advocacy of ``mandatory, comprehensive'' economic sanctions against Pretoria. Politically, South Africa is the enemy of six southern African nations known as the ``front line'' states. Economically, it represents something much closer to a lifeline - a source of vital commodities and services.

Aware of this, South Africa often reminds front-liners that they too will suffer from sanctions against Pretoria.

Of the six front-line countries publicly committed to sanctions - Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Angola, and Tanzania - the first three are especially dependent on South Africa. According to 1985 South African data that diplomats suggest are credible:

Zimbabwe relies on South African transshipment for well over half of its foreign trade.

Mozambique gets more than half of its electric power for its capital, Maputo, from South Africa, and its national airline has a maintenance contract with Pretoria.

Zambia receives more than half of its imports via Pretoria's transport network.

More important, say diplomats here, Zambia's rich but moisture-plagued copper mines - source of more than 90 percent of export earnings - rely on South African pumping and other equipment.

Zambia, along with other front-line states, is so far finessing the practical problems of sanctions by emphasizing the area least likely to cause it economic harm: civil air links with Pretoria. Officials here, and in Zimbabwe, have indicated they plan to cut that tie soon.

Quietly, the Zambians are also moving to reduce their dependence on South Africa's transport network. Until recently, at least 40 percent of Zambia's copper exports went through South Africa. But, say foreign businessmen in Lusaka, that figure has been reduced to near zero through increased use of the Tanzania-Zambia rail link. Other front-line states are moving full speed ahead to secure the rail-sea link through Mozambique's Beira port.

But such redirection involves costs, and risks. The so-called Beira corridor, diplomats note, has been brought to a virtual standstill by antigovernment rebels operating in the Mozambican interior. Zimbabwean officials acknowledge that an enormous security network will be needed to get it up and running, and keep it that way.

The Tan-Zam Railway, meanwhile, has a history of management and maintenance woes. Even if these can be overcome, says a diplomat here, ``you have to figure on a surcharge in switching to alternate transport routes and supply sources.'' He says this could add from 50 to 100 percent to Zambia's import costs.

Publicly, the Zambians and other front-liners have said they are willing to pay the economic and military price for political opposition to South African race policies. South Africa has repeatedly launched raids into neighboring countries in what Pretoria terms moves against the outlawed African National Congress.

The ANC, headquartered in Lusaka, is South Africa's most prominent black nationalist movement. In a recent remark here, Zambia's foreign affairs minister said the front-line states would have to expect further ``destablization.''

But privately, according to diplomatic sources, some Zambian officials have reservations about too energetic an application of sanctions. Similar sentiment exists among some ordinary Zambians. These misgivings are presumably encouraged by Zambia's own economic problems: a large foreign debt, sluggish world copper prices, and domestic poverty.

Pretoria has also been keeping a relatively low profile on the sanctions issue. Diplomats suggest one reason for this may be that dependence is not a one-way street. Pretoria is expanding exports to black African states, a market that could gain importance amid Western sanctions against South Africa's products.

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