S. Africa's foreign policy game plan. Pact on Angola is part of bid to polish its image

Tuesday's agreement on an Angolan peace accord does not necessarily herald an about-face in South Africa's foreign policy, political analysts say. The accord resulted from months of US-mediated talks among Angola, Cuba, and South Africa to end the 13-year-old civil war. Although no details were released, the plan called for Cuba to pull out its estimated 50,000 troops from Angola, and for South Africa to grant independence to Namibia.

The proposal still requires approval by the respective governments. Nonetheless, that South Africa would come this far seems to represent a real turnaround from its heavy-handed politics of destabilizing the region militarily. At least, on the face of it.

For many analysts say the motivation comes not from a new commitment to diplomacy, but from hard economic reality. Sanctions, huge international debts, and a cutoff in foreign credit are bleeding South Africa.

The problem is getting so serious that apparently even the country's military men - who call many of the shots on foreign and domestic issues - are worried.

So worried, in fact, that they're willing to go along with trying to polish up South Africa's image abroad in the hope of attracting new capital. And that means pursuing diplomatic - not military - offenses. (Besides, the Angola-Namibia conflict was also costing a bundle.)

``There's no change of heart here, only a change of circumstances,'' says Gerhard Erasmus, of Stellenbosch University. ``The government needs to show the international community a reasonable face to try to get the tremendous sums of money it needs.''

Analysts believe the government in Pretoria was initially moved to participate in the peace talks by a desire to get out of Angola. Its soldiers reportedly got bogged down in heavy fighting there earlier this year, with relatively big losses. The question was whether, having pulled out its men last September, South Africa then would agree to abide by UN Resolution 435.

That's because the resolution calls for internationally supervised elections in Namibia, leading to a constitutional assembly and independence. It is a good bet the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) would win in open elections. Pretoria maintains SWAPO is Marxist-dominated and thus has tried to promote more moderate, pro-South African alternatives.

So skeptics thought Pretoria would balk when it got down to granting Namibia independence in exchange for a Cuban troop withdrawal. But consider what has happened here since international credit was cut a few years ago. Bereft of foreign investment, the economy has averaged only 1.4 percent growth annually since 1983. That, while the black population is expanding by almost 3 percent each year.

To create enough jobs, economists figure, the country has to grow by about 5 percent annually - practically an impossibility, with all the money going to service South Africa's $22 billion foreign debt. Thus, the specter of rapidly increasing black unemployment - and a possible violent backlash - apparently has Pretoria's military men thinking twice about flying in the face of international opinion on Namibia.

They are particularly concerned about providing for the country's 28 million blacks. To counter what they see as a revolutionary onslaught by the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) they have launched a counterinsurgency campaign that includes trying to win over blacks by improving their living conditions. That takes a lot of money - which is why the word apparently went out that South Africa was to improve its image.

So Pretoria has been on a diplomatic offensive in Africa, with President Pieter Botha visiting Mozambique, Malawi, Zaire, and Ivory Coast. He also made a recent swing through Europe. And there are strong rumors circulating that jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela will soon be released.

``One reason we haven't engaged in any overboard excursions into neighboring countries in a while is because of economic worries,'' a government official admits. ``Nowadays, security decisions are taken with the idea of how they will affect the economy.''

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