For the last 28 years, Sam Nujoma has been president of the South West Africa People's organization (SWAPO), a nationalist organization fighting for the independence of Namibia (South-West Africa). Over the years Mr. Nujoma has seen all of Africa's European colonies take their places among the world's sovereign states. All except for his own country.
Today, the 59-year-old nationalist leader is waging Africa's last anticolonial war, against a South African government intent upon controlling his mineral-rich territory.
Although discussions crucial to Namibia's future have taken place twice in the last two weeks, the man many feel is likely to be the president of an independent Namibia was not included. Instead, he was in the United States seeking support.
The talks have centered on South Africa's demand that Cuban troops pull out of neighboring Angola in exchange for a South African departure from Namibia. Nujoma opposes this policy, which is called ``linkage,'' and is backed by the US. SWAPO had been fighting for independence for 15 years - before the Cubans even arrived in the region - he noted during an interview here. Pretoria, he contended, uses the Cuban issue as an excuse to stay in Namibia.
Nujoma is optimistic despite South Africa's long history of intransigence on the linkage issue. He views the current talks as a sign of progress and points to changes in the political environment that may, finally, result in Namibian independence.
Pretoria, he claims, is finally willing to come to terms with Namibia, largely as a result of pressure from SWAPO, concerns over its own economy, and pressure from the international economic community.
Since 1966, the military wing of SWAPO has fought a guerrilla war against the South African Army. ``Now everybody is tired of the war,'' Nujoma said. ``The South Africans ... want to get out.'' According to SWAPO, more than 100,000 South African troops, or one-third of its Army, is in Namibia at a cost of more than $2 million per day. (The US says South Africa has about 22,000 troops in Namibia.)
Nujoma has accused the South African government of committing atrocities, but sees these as a sign that it is ``desperate and becoming weaker.''
``The [South African] economy is in shambles,'' he claimed. ``The white community is panicking. Many South African soldiers are dying. Some industrialists in South Africa and Namibia are demanding that apartheid come to an end. And in Namibia there are some whites who are joining SWAPO because they don't see any other way out.''
This last fact gives Nujoma hope. ``The brutality of the South Africans in Namibia has created concern among the whites there, too,'' he said. ``Many of them have begun to realize that their interests are not the same as South Africa's.''
``It is the businessmen, the doctors, and lawyers, the cream of the white society who are demanding to speak with SWAPO. They want a solution.'' Nujoma admitted this is partly fear of war.
Nujoma said that US attitudes toward South Africa can be influential, and uncertainty surrounding the upcoming US presidential election has added pressure for South Africa to negotiate. ``Pretoria cannot be sure that there will be another Reagan in the White House, who will protect it by exercising vetoes in the Security Council to prevent the UN from enforcing comprehensive, mandatory economic sanctions against the apartheid regime.''
Nujoma said he was here to press for continued sanctions on South Africa. SWAPO, he added, wants ``to impress on the presidential candidates that the future American administration should not identify itself with the apartheid regime as the Reagan administration does. And we would urge them to support ... UN Security Council Resolution 435 [which calls for an end to South Africa's occupation of Namibia and for free elections].''