To his obvious delight, Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss has loosed the cat among the pigeons with his recent visit to South Africa and environs. In a Bundestag (parliament) debate Thursday his critics charged Dr. Strauss with perpetuating apartheid and South African colonial rule of Namibia (South West Africa) by his consorting with leaders in Pretoria.
Strauss's allies in the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) defend him, saying he worked to secure the release of black prisoners in South Africa. But most of the CSU emphasis has been on shifting Bonn in a direction more favorable to South Africa.
Strauss relishes few things more than twitting his center-right coalition partners, and the men who occupy the seats in Bonn that he thinks himself far better suited to fill, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
An uproar began last summer when conservative Labor Minister and CDU coalition member Norbert Bl"um visited Chile, found evidence of torture in the case of 14 prisoners, suggested West German asylum for them, and urged Chilean President Augusto Pinochet to end political torture and the death penalty. The controversy was part of a strategy by Dr. Bl"um and Secretary-General Heiner Geissler of Dr. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union to move the CDU toward the center to steal votes from the opposition Social Democrats at a time when Social Democrats were alienating working-class home owners by flirting with the left.
Bl"um intended to repeat his performance with a trip to South Africa to criticize apartheid. His maneuvers, however, scandalized the CDU's more conservative sister party, Strauss's CSU, which objected to Bl"um's interference in Chilean affairs. The CSU got Kohl to bar Bl"um traveling to Pretoria in 1987.
But at the end of last month, Kohl personally commissioned Strauss's visit to South Africa and Mozambique. In South Africa, Strauss termed the UN resolution calling for Namibian independence outdated and said he had never seen a country treated as unfairly as South Africa.
Strauss surprised Kohl by paying a visit not only to South Africa, but also to the South African-installed governments in Namibia and the black ``homeland'' of Bophuthatswana. This, the West German opposition and the Liberal Party within the center-right coalition protested, bestowed legitimacy on these puppet regimes.
Kohl disavowed the Namibia and Bophuthatswana detours this week and reaffirmed West German opposition to apartheid, support for Namibian independence, and interest in seeing Nelson Mandela released from jail. He pointedly refrained, however, from stating that Liberal Foreign Minister Genscher alone decides foreign policy, as the outraged Liberals have been demanding.
Strauss's visit, however - and the recent dismissal in a West German court of a suit against West German shipbuilders on charges of illegally exporting submarine blueprints to South Africa - suggested to Pretoria that it can count on support from powerful friends in West Germany despite Bonn's and the EC's formal complaints about apartheid.
Opposition politicians in South Africa drew the same conclusions and currently are declining to see a Bundestag delegation that has been planning a trip to South Africa.