Despite the recent hoopla about negotiations to settle Angola's 13-year-old civil war, one big stumbling block stands out: Namibia (South-West Africa). That is because South Africa appears unwilling to tackle the issue of freedom for the territory, which it rules in defiance of United Nations resolutions calling for its withdrawal. Pretoria has linked Namibian independence and a halt to its support for rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Angolan government with the removal of Cuban troops from Angola.
Analysts say South Africa seems ready to consider ending aid to the rebels. But there seems little hope of Pretoria giving up control of Namibia because of domestic political pressures. This could bring talks to a screaming halt.
Top members of South Africa's foreign ministry met in London last week with ranking Angolan, Cuban, and United States officials to discuss the terms of an Angolan settlement. More talks are set for today between South Africa's foreign and defense ministers and an Angolan delegation in Brazzaville, Congo.
Despite a virtual news blackout, political analysts here believe that Angola, Cuba, the US, and the Soviet Union still are committed to Namibian independence in exchange for peace. And they are unlikely to back down.
``I can't see the parties involved walking away from the negotiating table without addressing Namibia,'' says Andre du Pisani, research director at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs. ``That would be perceived as defeat, and none of them wants to feel defeated by the South Africans.''
Angola might agree to drop Namibia from the negotiating equation to bring an end to its devastating war. But that would be a radical departure from the generally accepted formula for peace. According to the plan, Cuba would withdraw its estimated 40,000 soldiers from Angola, South Africa and the US would halt aid to Angolan rebels, and Pretoria would pullout its troops.
The plan also would implement UN resolution 435, which calls for internationally supervised elections in Namibia, leading to a constitutional assembly and independence.
South Africa clearly wants out of Angola. Analysts believe the war's cost - in men and money - are becoming too great. A 20 percent jump in defense spending this year is largely tied to Angola efforts.
``There is mounting concern that Angola is becoming a kind of bridge too far,'' says Peter Vale, a political scientist.
Thus, the desire to negotiate a settlement. But not at the price of Namibian independence. A recent editorial in a pro-government newspaper said: ``If Cuba makes the coupling [linkage] demand, it touches directly on the politics of South West Africa. ... Luanda and Havana actually have no right to interfere in the politics of South West Africa. ... Cuba has no claim on South West Africa. It cannot make its own demand. It cannot come with its own form of coupling.''
Analysts figure there are a number of reasons why the government wants to leave out Namibia. For starters, it fears the South West Africa Peoples' Organization (SWAPO), a political and military opposition group, would win in open elections. Pretoria contends that SWAPO is dominated by Marxists, says Mr. du Pisani, and has built its Namibia policy around pro-South African alternatives.
But Gerhard Totemeyer, who teaches public administration at the University of Namibia, says that the interim government is in serious disarray, and that Pretoria needs time to find a fallback. Many of its members have come to accept resolution 435 and want to distance themselves from Pretoria's racially based policies. (President Pieter Botha recently extended the powers of his administrator-general there to stem growing dissent.)
In addition, President Botha has been hammered by right-wingers who claim he is selling out to blacks by enacting limited political reforms at home. Deon Geldenhuys, a Rand Afrikaans University political scientist, contends that the right wing could get long political mileage out of a SWAPO victory by claiming that Botha had given in to Communists - something he cannot afford with important municipal elections in October.
Mr. Geldenhuys believes some government members would not mind the talks failing over Namibia, providing them with a somewhat graceful out from the whole formula. ``Namibia is a total no-win,'' he says. ``The government has painted itself into a real corner the way it has portrayed SWAPO. This is something it can't sell white South Africa nowadays.''