There is always something new out of Africa," said the ancient Greeks, as recorded by Pliny the Elder. The contemporary Africa-watcher, however, might be forgiven for wondering whether it is not all more of the same. In 1984, as in 1983, events in southern Africa and the devastating drought and famine which cost the lives of countless tens of thousands again dominated the year. For Nigerians, the new year began with yet another military government, which had ousted the elected civilian administration on the last day of 1983. In Chad, civil war ground on with no solution in sight. Libya’s unpredictable leader, Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, continued to make headlines with stories ranging from the killing of a British policewoman in London to his dabbling in the affairs of Chad and other countries. At the United Nations, the controversy over Namibia continued to set records as the longest running debate in that organization’s history. And U.S. suggestions that its policy of "constructive engagement" with South Africa was succeeding continued to be greeted with skepticism in many quarters.

Looking more carefully, several new and quite unexpected things came out of Africa in 1984. Amid much pomp and ceremony, Mozambique’s president, Samora Machel, and the South African prime minister, P.W. Botha, signed an "Agreement on Non-Aggression and Good Neighborliness" on March 16. Machel hailed the agreement, popularly known as the Accord of Nkomati, as a victory for peace. He moderated his terminology later in the year, and Tanzanian President Julius K. Nyerere, chairman of the Front Line states, said in November—after also becoming chairman of the Organization of African Unity—that the agreement was a "defeat" and a "humiliation" for Africa. Swaziland then revealed that two years earlier it had secretly signed a nonaggression pact with South Africa which went further than the pact with Mozambique. Angola and South Africa had also signed an agreement, one month before the Nkomati accord, which led to a phased but uncompleted withdrawal of South African troops from Angola. And the Organization of African Unity finally broke the deadlock over the Western Sahara. This came at the price of Morocco’s withdrawal from the organization and a walk-out by Zaïre, but the predicted collapse of the organization did not occur.

Economic development was the most important long-term concern for the continent in 1984, and for the West in its relations with Africa, but drought and uneasiness over security continued to hamper this development. "Africa is now the weakest component of our interdependent global economy," Secretary of State George Shultz said in February 1984. "Declining African markets and growing regional insolvency are a significant drag on global recovery, with a particular impact on Europe. In short, the West cannot afford—and we will not sit idly by and watch—the accelerating decline of Africa’s economy." To encourage African governments to pursue policies compatible with the American view of economic recovery, the Administration went to Congress for a five-year, $500-million aid program, beginning with $75 million for fiscal year 1985. Fruits of this economic policy initiative for Africa are to be allocated to countries that have undertaken certain policy reforms—that is, after they have implemented them.

By contrast, the limits on Soviet influence in Africa remained evident, although the Soviet Union continued to be more forthcoming in its economic dealings than it had been a decade ago. As a result of their colonial experience, African countries inherited neocolonial structures that rely heavily on trade with the West. But trade with the Soviet Union has jumped sharply, especially in northern Africa due to oil exports, and in some other countries due to growing imports of Soviet commodities. Soviet aid remains generally limited to essential defenses, diplomatic support and technicians. Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko spoke of a "broad political spectrum" of international ties, and among the states receiving more economic credits in the last few years was Morocco.

Most African countries have a strong desire to be genuinely nonaligned, and, with the possible exception of Ethiopia, no sub-Saharan country could be described as a Soviet satellite or even an unconditional ally. However, countries combating the South African military threat, particularly Angola, have nowhere else to turn for assistance. The new Soviet leader, Konstantin U. Chernenko, said that solidarity with young liberated nations has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of Soviet foreign policy.

The American policy of "not sitting idly by" was particularly pronounced in southern Africa; the State Department’s Africa desk, led by the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker, was engaged in "defining an agenda" or "identifying a regional strategy." At the beginning of the year, Secretary Shultz said the strategy was to build an overall framework for regional security, bring about an independent Namibia and encourage positive change in the apartheid policies of South Africa itself. After a series of complex maneuvers, U.S. negotiators made it clear that they, at least, believed they were closer than ever before to achieving a package involving the final withdrawal of South African troops from Angola, implementation of U.N. Resolution 435 leading to Namibia’s independence, and the phased withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.

Something new was coming out of Africa. But each new development brought new questions, some of which will take months, if not years, to answer.


Under the Accord of Nkomati, Mozambique and South Africa undertook to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs, recognize the right of self-determination and independence as well as the principle of "equal rights of all peoples," refrain from the threat of force against each other, prevent their respective territories from being used for acts of aggression against each other, and promote good neighborliness. Each side agreed to eliminate from its territory all bases, radio stations and other facilities that were being used by forces hostile to the other, and the two nations agreed to set up a joint security commission to supervise and monitor the agreement.

Many friends of the Mozambique regime were stunned by the agreement, and the African National Congress, which had been using Mozambique as a rear base in its guerrilla war against the apartheid system, reacted angrily. A statement from the ANC national executive committee accused Pretoria of using "so-called nonaggression pacts" to reduce independent states in the region to the status of South Africa’s own "Bantustans," or black homeland areas. They called for an intensification of the offensive against South Africa.

At the time of the Nkomati agreement, Mozambique had been at war for almost 20 years. Its liberation war against Portuguese colonial rule had gone on for a decade until the peace agreement of 1974 leading to independence. But by then Rhodesian troops were already operating inside Mozambique in an attempt to block the infiltration of Zimbabwean guerrillas. The Rhodesian war had a devastating impact on the newly independent nation’s fragile and vulnerable economy and infrastructure. Then in the 1980s, the Mozambique National Resistance movement (MNR), massively backed by South Africa, began escalating its efforts, and war-weary Mozambique was plunged into its third consecutive conflict.

After the Nkomati agreement, Machel observed that the struggle against the MNR had left his country with "severe wounds." No one knew the number of people murdered, maimed or mutilated by the "bandits," as they are described in Mozambique. By the end of 1983, MNR fighters were operating in all of Mozambique’s ten provinces and numbered about 15,000. Psychologically most important in understanding Mozambique’s decision to sign the agreement was the fact that, as a result of MNR attacks against supply routes, thousands of people had died or were dying from starvation.

In the Portuguese colonial era, Mozambique had been developed as a transit country for the African hinterland and South Africa. Sanctions against Rhodesia cost dearly and South Africa applied economic pressure by reducing the flow of its goods through the port of Maputo, limiting the influx of Mozambique labor to its mines and terminating the preferential agreement on gold prices. Bare shops and shelves, unending queues for the little that was available, rationing, arrested development, a total absence of foreign investment and, finally, the need to reschedule the national debt were all symptomatic of the horrendous price Mozambique was paying.

On their side, the South Africans had become deeply involved in supporting the MNR, which they inherited from Rhodesia in March 1980 after Robert Mugabe’s victory in the pre-independence elections. In a three-day airlift following that vote, the South African Defense Forces (SADF) evacuated MNR personnel from Rhodesia, moving them straight into military barracks in Pretoria.

This adopted force was soon unleashed against Mozambique. By early 1981 white farmers in southeastern Zimbabwe were describing an "armada" of helicopters passing overhead at night from South Africa heading into Mozambique. It was estimated that one airlift carried up to 1,000 men and their equipment. By sea and air, trained MNR personnel and their equipment were brought into Mozambique, a sophisticated radio network was set up, SADF instructors were based inside Mozambique at MNR camps consisting of up to 800 huts, and the MNR’s clandestine Voice of Free Africa radio station broadcast its message from studios of the South African Broadcasting Corporation near Johannesburg. All the indications were that Pretoria was determined to overthrow the Marxist government on its borders and that it was not too far from success. Why, then, did Pretoria sign the Accord of Nkomati?

Although South Africa is militarily and economically the region’s superpower, the fact is that it was confronted by mounting difficulties in 1983 and early 1984. The Mozambique resistance had not developed a viable leadership or set of alternative policies. South Africa had also suffered a military reverse in southern Angola in late 1983 when its large-scale invasion, Operation Askari, ran headlong into Angolan tanks and sophisticated Soviet weaponry, blunting the offensive and curtailing South Africa’s future ability to intervene.

Most important, the South African economy was under pressure. Gold prices, which in early 1980 peaked at $850 an ounce, fell to $340 an ounce in New York by mid-1984. Gold exports accounted for 49 percent of South Africa’s export revenue in 1983; for every dollar the price drops, South Africa loses almost $20 million. Nor was South Africa spared the drought which affected much of the continent. In 1981 South Africa’s maize crop was 14 million tons, leaving an export surplus after domestic consumption of around seven million tons. The predicted 1984 crop was put as low as 3.5 million tons, leaving an import requirement likely to cost at least $500 million.

The strain of the gold slump and the drought had to be borne by the currency; the rand plummeted from a value of 85 cents in March to just under 50 cents at year’s end. Three years ago the rand was worth $1.30. In addition, and in contrast to most of South Africa’s main trading partners, inflation in 1984 remained up around 12 percent. Finally, defense spending accounted for 21.5 percent of the total budget in 1984. The war in Namibia/Angola and topping up the budget of Namibia cost over $1 billion. No figures are available for South Africa’s support for destabilization actions in Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, for it has never publicly admitted such a role, but the bill is obviously considerable. Clearly, by early 1984, the costs of confrontation, when viewed against the backdrop of the weakened economy, presented a telling argument for a regional policy of diplomacy.

The decision to pursue a shift in policy occurred in the last quarter of 1983, according to State Department officials closely involved in the "constructive engagement" process. These officials say the U.S. role consisted of assisting communication and building confidence. The first round in the decisive series of public talks occurred in Swaziland in December 1983 when Mozambique verbally spelled out the principles upon which any agreement must be based. In February, South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. "Pik" Botha, accompanied by the minister of defense, General Magnus Malan, traveled to Maputo where they saw President Machel.

The South African negotiators carried with them their draft of the proposed agreement demanding the total removal of the ANC from Mozambique. This draft was very different from the one they finally signed. "It went so far that it would have meant we could not even have Miriam Makeba in Mozambique to give a concert," one senior Mozambique official said. The essence of the Nkomati accord was that Mozambique undertook to prevent the ANC from using and traversing its territory for attacks on South Africa, and South Africa undertook to end its covert support for the MNR. It is noteworthy that South Africa, which has always denied involvement with the MNR, tacitly admitted such involvement by signing the Nkomati agreement. The weakness of the agreement was that while Mozambique could fairly easily, if acrimoniously, check the ANC, there was no mechanism to halt MNR activities inside Mozambique. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that South Africa pumped at least 1,000 MNR personnel into Mozambique’s southern Maputo province on the eve of the agreement and resupplied MNR arms caches.

By August there were indications that the accord could be in danger of foundering amid suspicions that "elements" in South Africa were still supporting the MNR. By late in the year, Mozambique and U.S. officials were saying that these "elements" were members of the Portuguese government and members of the Portuguese community in South Africa, which numbers almost one million, including many persons who had fled Angola and Mozambique on the eve of independence. A senior U.S. diplomat visited Lisbon in November and raised the concern about involvement by members of the Portuguese government with both Prime Minister Mario Soares and Foreign Minister Jaime Gama. Mozambique President Machel made a state visit to Malawi and spoke in no uncertain terms about infiltration into Mozambique through that country.

Several attempts were made, in Africa and Europe, to arrange a "cessation of armed activity," but peace in Mozambique still appeared to be a very long way off. The objective of continued destabilization seemed to be to force the government into a coalition with the MNR, perhaps as an example for Angola. That being the case, has Mozambique, as its critics insist, been guilty of naïveté in signing an agreement with South Africa and trusting South Africa to keep its part of the bargain?

If there were firm evidence that South Africa was breaking the March 16 agreement then the answer would certainly be affirmative. But senior Mozambique officials have long known and said, privately, that it would take at least two years to deal with the bandits. Machel is said to have told a visitor late in the year that probably no more than 30 percent of the MNR fighters were responsive to orders from the group’s central headquarters. Machel’s expectation, obviously, did not correspond with that of some outsiders, who seemed to think the war would end before the ink of the agreement was dry, and that if it did not, South Africa must be breaking its word. Although the security situation has deteriorated in the southern Maputo province and areas across from the Malawi border, it has improved in the center of the country where roads, such as the one from Zimbabwe to Beira, can be traversed with relative impunity these days and where the oil pipeline and railway are rarely targets.

There are many negative judgments to make on the Nkomati accord: that it was a defeat and humiliation for Africa, that military might prevailed, that South Africa’s international credibility has been enhanced, that it is a serious setback for the ANC and the fight against apartheid. But there is also a positive side. As no country bordering on South Africa now allows, officially or unofficially, passage to ANC guerrillas, can South Africa continue to pretend that its enemy is external? Or must it finally address itself to where the real threat to apartheid lies? Can it now, when a significant military attack occurs, bomb one of its neighbors to placate its white constituency? Is it only a coincidence that South Africa has suffered its worst sustained outbreak of violence and demonstrations this year? Or has the message "this is first and foremost your struggle" gone home in the townships? And is it not a signal for the ANC to reexamine its strategy of relying heavily on support from neighboring countries, for independent African states could never have withstood South Africa’s military might. Only time can answer these questions, but the curious irony of the Nkomati deal may well prove to be that it contributed to the acceleration of the struggle within South Africa itself.


The Nkomati accord, the news that Swaziland had signed an agreement two years earlier, and the ongoing discussions between Angola and South Africa all put new pressure on other southern African states, particularly Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. When Botswana President Quett Masire met President Reagan at the White House in early 1984, he asked for Washington’s support to help prevent South Africa from forcing him to sign an agreement. Lesotho found it necessary to state publicly that it had no intention of signing any agreement with Pretoria and, as both countries are tied to South Africa in a common customs union and can easily be held to ransom, any such agreement would seem to serve little purpose other than scoring another political point for Pretoria. Certainly neither could be seen as aggressors against South Africa and, for Lesotho, the opposite was the case: South African troops attacked Maseru in 1982 and South Africa is known to support the rebel Lesotho Liberation Army.

It was Zimbabwe which appeared to pose South Africa’s main regional foreign policy dilemma. The largest foreign mission in Harare—trade, not diplomatic—is South Africa’s, and Zimbabwe was South Africa’s main trading partner on the continent in 1983, with two-way trade amounting to some $350 million. Further, Zimbabwe provides South Africa with a trade gateway to Zaïre and Zambia. Although Zambian official statistics show no trade with South Africa, some reports say South Africa has overtaken Britain as the largest source of Zambian imports. But Zimbabwean Prime Minister Mugabe consistently, to Pretoria’s irritation, refused to countenance ministerial-level contacts with South Africa, and Zimbabwe’s ministers and media continued to denounce apartheid.

Even so, during the first eight months of 1984 relations appeared to have distinctly improved. In February, security and military officials from both governments met in Harare when the Zimbabweans produced evidence of South African involvement with dissidents operating in southeast and central Zimbabwe. To underscore the point, they then provided details about the white farmers murdered by South African trained and armed dissidents. The question was obvious—was South Africa’s objective to kill the white farmers of Zimbabwe?

After that meeting there was no further evidence of infiltrations from South Africa until the beginning of August on the eve of the congress of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union. Two groups, together numbering about 60, were seen crossing into Zimbabwe in the area where the borders of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana meet. By year’s end the security situation had begun to deteriorate sharply with the murder of two senators, one a member of ZANU and one a member of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union, and mob violence against ZAPU supporters.

With elections due early in 1985 and ZANU talking increasingly of a one-party state, tempers were becoming increasingly frayed. Three prominent members of ZAPU, the most important being its secretary-general, Cephas Msipa, resigned from the party, but his resignation came only after Mugabe had dismissed all ZAPU members from the ZANU-dominated coalition government following the murder of the ZANU senator. Bishop Abel Muzorewa, freed from several months’ detention late in 1984, said his United African National Congress party would field candidates in all constituencies. But it seemed unlikely that he could improve upon or even hold on to the three seats he won in 1980, and the indications were that Zimbabwe was heading for a polarization between ZANU, with the 80 percent Shona majority, and ZAPU, supported by most of the country’s remaining, Ndebele-speaking population.


On the other side of the continent, South Africa’s occupation of southern Angola became the focal point for an evolving strategy of negotiation under the U.S. State Department’s curtain of "constructive engagement." The transition from destabilization to diplomacy was so sudden that one South African magazine, The Financial Mail, likened it to a Transvaal thunderstorm.

In December 1983, the South Africans had penetrated more than 150 miles into Angola in their biggest operation in three years, although they had occupied parts of southern Angola continuously since 1981. The South African military said it was "a pre-emptive strike on SWAPO [South-West Africa People’s Organization] positions before the annual rainy season offensive"; but in terms of their own losses it was the costliest invasion of southern Angola since the seven-month Operation Savannah in 1976. The Angolan army was prepared for the attack, to the surprise and dismay of its opponents.

What had escaped South African military intelligence, or had been ignored, was the appearance in Angola of a considerable amount of new and sophisticated Soviet defense equipment, including MiG-23s, technologically superior to the South African Mirages; sophisticated helicopter gunships equipped with rockets and cannons; ground-to-air missiles; and a new radar system. This hampered the South African invaders in sending ground troops too far ahead or attacking by air. Ironically, according to American business and intelligence sources, Cuban troops were not only not involved in this fighting but have not fired on the South Africans since 1976 (and are garrisoned in towns). Nonetheless, the issue of "linking" the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola to the independence of Namibia dominated each stage of the delicate and often secret negotiations, which were designed to give the process a higher profile in Washington and an acceptable face in Pretoria.

The South African government proposed a 30-day disengagement beginning the first day of 1984 if the Angolans would ensure that there were no infiltrations into Namibia by SWAPO guerrillas. This was rejected. The Angolan president, José Eduardo dos Santos, countered with a letter to the United Nations accepting in principle a 30-day truce with two conditions: the withdrawal of all South African forces from Angolan territory, and a promise from Pretoria to initiate the process of independence for Namibia within 15 days of the start of the truce.

The South African offensive had caused great concern in some Western capitals because it increased the risk of internationalizing the conflict in the region by inviting direct confrontation with the Cuban troops in Angola and possible Soviet intervention. On January 5, 1984, the Soviet press repeated publicly the warning issued privately six weeks earlier in an unprecedented meeting between Soviet and South African delegations in New York: that such incursions would not be tolerated in future; "aggression cannot be left unpunished." On January 6, the United States and Britain abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the invasion and demanding an unconditional withdrawal of South African forces. On January 8, South Africa announced it was beginning to withdraw; General Malan said the dispute should be solved by negotiation rather than military force, and Pik Botha said his government would not object to direct talks between SWAPO and the administrator-general of South-West Africa (Namibia). He rejected Angolan conditions, however.

Meanwhile, the Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda, had written to the South African prime minister suggesting that if he were serious about finding a solution he should give Namibia its independence as a "Christmas gift." Botha’s reply indicated a willingness to arrange talks with SWAPO, and offered to guarantee their safety if they would send a delegation to Windhoek. Kaunda offered SWAPO an aircraft and said he would accompany them. SWAPO leaders declined the risk of Windhoek but reiterated their willingness to hold direct talks with the South African government.

South Africa sent a high-level delegation from military intelligence to an unpublicized meeting in Lusaka on January 30. Both sides took the meeting seriously. The South Africans found SWAPO free of rhetoric and open to discussion. The SWAPO leaders noted the high level of the South African delegation, led by a member of the powerful State Security Council (the decision-making body in South Africa), and its military composition, which indicated a willingness to consider a cease-fire in the 18-year-long war.

The following day, P.W. Botha told the South African parliament that his army had begun to withdraw from southern Angola as the first step in a hoped-for cease-fire. He said the cost of retaining Namibia had become too high, and he urged political leaders in Namibia to find an acceptable solution to bring the territory to independence. During the current financial year, he noted, "South Africa had made direct and indirect assistance available to the territory amounting to about R560 million [then $450 million]," not including security spending of about $320-$400 million, and had further guaranteed loans of $550 million. "Our determination [to protect South-West Africa] has exacted a heavy price—in material, in international condemnation, and in the lives of our young men," he said.

Economic and military reality had altered political will; what remained was to fit together the pieces of an international jigsaw puzzle. America, with its diplomatic and financial muscle, was standing by to act as broker. "South Africa stands at the crossroads between confrontation and peace," Botha declared. A British newspaper, The Guardian, put it differently: "The iron fist of destabilization is now decorously clothed in the velvet glove of diplomacy."

On February 16, an Angolan delegation led by the interior minister, Alexandre "Kito" Rodrigues, met in Lusaka with Crocker and a South African delegation led by Pik Botha. They agreed to set up a joint military commission to monitor the disengagement process in southern Angola and to "detect, investigate and report any alleged violations of the commitment of the parties." As South Africa withdrew, Angola would reestablish its sovereignty and ensure that no Cuban troops or SWAPO guerrillas moved into the area. The communiqué added that "a small number of American representatives could participate in the activities of the joint commission at the request of the parties." The United States set up a liaison office in Windhoek, and over the next few months the commission monitored the hesitant South African withdrawal from Cuvelai, 120 miles north of the Namibian border, to Evale and, finally, to Ngiva, 20 miles from the border, where it stalled.

These events of the first six weeks of 1984 set a pattern for the delicate fabric of negotiation that unfolded throughout the year, the fiber intricately woven in Washington and the bold design completed by the parties involved. "What happens is reciprocal," an American official said. "South Africa withdrawing is a change; geographical distance is a change. Each change offers the parties new choices. What chances are they willing to take? Each decision builds confidence for moving on to the next stage." Crocker and his deputy, Frank Wisner, spent much of the year shuttling to southern Africa or the Cape Verde islands off the west coast, a refueling stop for South African Airways often used as a diplomatic meeting place.

A subject pointedly avoided has been the difficult issue of Jonas Savimbi’s rebel group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). American officials, concerned that mere mention of UNITA could destroy the process, spoke instead of "getting the foreigners out so Angola can solve its own problems." Savimbi has highly placed friends in Washington and other capitals, and receives financial and diplomatic encouragement for his operations despite his close alliance with apartheid. UNITA is often glibly labeled as "pro-Western" because it is opposing a Marxist administration, but Western business interests operating in Angola say UNITA could be better described as "pro-Savimbi." They express doubts that he would settle for minority shareholding in government and feel he could be more difficult to deal with than the present government, which they have come to respect for its efficiency in business dealings despite the American government’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations. The fact that UNITA, which characterized itself as a "liberation movement," fought for a time in Angola alongside the Portuguese army that it was supposed to be fighting against, and received supplies from them to fight against other guerrilla movements, does raise questions about its motives.

Savimbi spent the year trying to secure his place in the negotiating process and to prevent his organization from being bargained off for other concessions. After seizing more than 100 foreign hostages, including British, Czech and Portuguese technicians, he demanded direct negotiations and a coalition government. If his offer was rejected, he said, UNITA would carry its acts of violence into the cities. Later in the year, pylons near Luanda were attacked more than once, cutting electricity to the capital. The Angolan government accused the South Africans of continuing their aggression by halting direct attacks but increasing support for UNITA, and said a clear demonstration of continued South African support for Savimbi was his presence in Pretoria at the swearing-in of P.W. Botha as state president in September.

An oil pipeline was damaged in the northern enclave of Cabinda in June, an attack which UNITA claimed but which oil company officials say was carried out by remnants of another group. It was the first attack on an American target, highlighting the presence in Angola of Western oil companies, including American, French, Brazilian and Belgian firms. These businessmen who deal with the Angolans directly speak highly of their relations with the Angolan government, which one Western oilman described as "a clean operation. We just move in with our technical operation and get on with it. We regard Angola as a very go-ahead area."

Oil accounts for 90 percent of Angola’s foreign exchange earnings, expected to reach $1.98 billion in 1984. Foreign exchange earnings are up 19 percent from 1983 and 34 percent from 1982, though there have been problems in meeting production targets for diamonds because of UNITA’s sabotage and smuggling. According to the government planning ministry, the manufacturing and mining sectors have recently recorded their highest levels of economic growth. The overall food production target is expected to increase by about 17 percent this year, although agricultural output has been hit by drought, security problems and absenteeism among agricultural workers.

Since independence in 1975, Angola has been the rear base for SWAPO’s war in Namibia, an arid but mineral-rich territory on its southern border with a population of just over one million people. Strict implementation of the Lusaka accord between South Africa and Angola would mean that SWAPO would be excluded from the neutralized zone in southern Angola, and would confront serious impediments to infiltration. South Africa has given the continued presence of SWAPO guerrillas in southern Angola as a reason to delay its withdrawal; another reason given for the delay was "bad weather."

South Africa released almost 100 Angolan and Namibian prisoners during 1984, including Andimba Ja Toivo, a founder of SWAPO who had served 16 years of a 20-year sentence. He was promptly appointed to the SWAPO politburo and later elected secretary-general, effectively number two in the party. If South Africa’s intention was to divide SWAPO, it seems to have failed, but it signaled a dramatic step toward fulfilling one of the conditions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 435. On March 11, P.W. Botha went a step further, saying South Africa was willing to take part in a peace conference of all parties involved in Namibia, with no preconditions. SWAPO had earlier indicated it would meet the administrator-general if he were the designated representative of the South African government.

Hints of South Africa’s real strategy emerged publicly on April 27, when P.W. Botha told the parliament in Cape Town that "the people of South-West Africa, including SWAPO, cannot wait indefinitely for a breakthrough on the Cuban question. If the political parties, including SWAPO, can in the meantime come to some agreement with regard to the future of their country, South Africa will not stand in the way." In Lusaka, President Kaunda contemplated, as a way out of the impasse, a regional settlement which could be endorsed later by the United Nations "ex post facto." He enticed SWAPO into a meeting attended by the administrator-general and the Multi-Party Conference, but SWAPO’s position had been strengthened by the defection to its ranks of some key MPC leaders. The meeting collapsed, but it brought into the open South Africa’s strategy of trying to draw SWAPO away from Resolution 435 and a seven-month transition to elections and into protracted constitutional negotiations with the internal parties; SWAPO, militarily weakened but politically strong, demurred.

Another means of avoiding a U.N. peacekeeping force was floated by P.W. Botha in June, during his tour of six European capitals, when he suggested that West Germany resume its colonial role in Namibia or that the Western contact group (Britain, Canada, France, West Germany and the United States) take over administration, defense and economic aid for the territory. They all declined (the German government called it a "propaganda exercise"), and European leaders were bluntly critical of South Africa’s policies. Crocker, meanwhile, was working on a formula to extend the Angola-South Africa truce and the joint commission to include SWAPO.

In September, the Angolan government gave a written commitment on Cuban withdrawal, but ruled out any reconciliation with UNITA. At about the same time, the Angolan press reported that 1,500 armed rebels of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), including their chief of staff, had given themselves up with 20,000 civilian supporters and pledged allegiance to the government. Soon another senior FNLA exile, a former joint prime minister in the tripartite government of 1975, announced his return to the country. These events seem to indicate a decrease in support from their main backer, President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre.

Angolan and South African military leaders, meeting at Ngiva in November, agreed that there were political decisions to be made and a ministerial meeting would be necessary. Then, in late November, the Angolan government made public its five-point negotiating position: the withdrawal of all South African forces from southern Angola; a pledge by the South African government to "honor and contribute to" implementation of U.N. Resolution 435; a cease-fire agreement between South Africa and SWAPO; a statement by the Angolan government that it will proceed with the withdrawal of Cuban troops when the implementation of Resolution 435 is under way; and the signing of a procedural agreement between Angola, South Africa, Cuba and SWAPO, with the U.N. Security Council as guarantor. Accompanying this was a detailed written proposal for the phased withdrawal of 20,000 Cuban troops over three years; 5,000 Cuban soldiers would remain in the north to protect Luanda and the Cabinda oilfields. The South Africans have demanded the withdrawal of all Cuban troops from Angola in three stages to be completed no later than 12 weeks after implementation of Resolution 435 begins, a position that Angola and the other Front Line states found untenable. "Angola cannot make concessions which would be suicidal to its national integrity. . . ." Pretoria also wanted a joint peace commission set up to monitor the Cuban troop withdrawal, assurances that the Cubans will not be replaced by other foreign forces, and limits to be set on the number of Soviet bloc advisers working in Angola. The Front Line states regarded these demands as interference in Angola’s internal affairs.

The fact that there was a written proposal on which to negotiate, however, made the Africa bureau of the State Department almost optimistic, and Crocker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Africa that "we are closer to the threshold of Namibian independence than ever before. The underbrush has been cleared away. Though negotiations are at a sensitive stage, we have reason to believe we may be close to the fundamental political decisions on implementing Resolution 435 and agreement on the Cuban troop issue in Angola. We have identified the basis for a settlement and are committed to succeed."

By the end of 1984, more "linkages" had been identified. Angola cannot withdraw Cuban troops until South Africa stops supporting UNITA; South Africa will not do that until the Angolan government agrees to talk to Savimbi. On the other side, South Africa refuses to complete its withdrawal from southern Angola unless SWAPO is removed from the area and monitored; Angola cannot take that action until South Africa and SWAPO agree to a cease-fire.


The aims of South Africa’s regional policy seem clear enough: to prevent neighboring states from hosting SWAPO and ANC guerrillas, and to make economic links tight enough to eliminate the specter of sanctions and disinvestment. But there is no single term adequate to describe the heavy blend of destabilization and détente that has evolved as South Africa’s strategy after several shifts in emphasis over the past decade. "Don’t speak of destabilization," officials in Pretoria say; "call it our forward policy."

Many explanations have been given for the change in South Africa’s behavior in 1984, including its economic weaknesses, the high cost of the war and Western pressure. These are all valid. But there is another aspect: the South African leadership orchestrated the wars with a political objective in sight, sort of "shooting their way to the bargaining table." The cynical view in Pretoria is that "détente failed because the black states were not well enough motivated to talk to ‘racist’ South Africa openly. Destabilization helped to provide that motivation." The nonaggression pact with Swaziland, signed in 1982 at the height of destabilization but not made public until after the Nkomati accord, would seem to reinforce this view.

Each regional agreement has an interlocking benefit for South Africa at home as well as for its security in the region. The Lusaka accord can reduce defense costs; the Nkomati accord has potential for business and tourism; these opened the way for a European tour by a South African premier—the first since Jan Smuts’ in 1946—which offered some international respectability, as well as the opportunity for financial discussions in Switzerland; Namibia’s independence, moreover, would ease economic and military strains.

But the most difficult pressure for South Africa to contain, militarily and psychologically, is on the home front, and 1984 saw the swelling of internal dissent coupled with continued ANC attacks on economic and military targets. With their access routes sealed off, this suggests a strong presence within the country, including no doubt many young people who fled after the Soweto clashes eight years ago and have returned as combatants. Young ANC guerrillas continue to appear in court charged with treason. But in policy at home as much as in regional strategy, 1984 was a watershed for Afrikaner rule in South Africa; it will never be the same again.


P. W. Botha was sworn in as the first executive state president under a new constitution that allows limited representation by coloreds and Indians but still excludes the three-quarters of the population who are black. Few people inside or outside the country approved of the new constitution. It caused deep divisions within Botha’s Afrikaner constituency and, coupled with the gloomy state of the economy, was made palatable only by the foreign policy footwork that included regional accords and official reception in Europe.

In a climate of demonstrations, detentions and arrests, a majority of the colored (mixed-race) and Indian populations boycotted parliamentary elections to express their disapproval, and on September 3, the day the new constitution came into force, riots broke out in black townships costing at least 44 lives by the time the new parliament opened two weeks later. General unrest continued through the rest of the year and work stoppages showed the potential muscle of the new black trade unions. The coalition of opinion actively working for the dismantling of apartheid broadened its base as well as seizing the international spotlight, and later in the year some prominent businessmen, including Afrikaners, began to openly criticize aspects of apartheid.

The new tricameral legislature includes separate chambers for whites, coloreds and Indians. Each group has executive authority over its own "community" affairs such as health services, education, agriculture and housing, while the cabinet controls "general" affairs, retaining the powers of defense, law and order, finance and foreign affairs. The only bodies in which direct bargaining between the races is likely to occur are the standing committees. The new cabinet contains only two nonwhites and neither has a specific portfolio. The new constitution makes "special provisions" for black affairs in the office of the president.

In his opening address to the new parliament, Botha said, "Democratic political participation must also be further extended among our black communities," but he gave no indication of any concrete plans for the extension of black political rights. Nor was there any suggestion that he meant the black majority. A cabinet committee is studying constitutional arrangements for urban blacks. But the new Aliens Amendment Bill deprives nine million rural Africans of their South African citizenship, declaring them "aliens," relegating them to dusty, impoverished homelands, and imposing heavy fines on anyone who employs them in white-designated areas.

Such "influx control" policies have been tightened since Botha took power in 1978, but recently, as the economy pinched, some prominent businessmen began to publicly criticize the policy as economically disastrous, politically divisive and internationally damaging. Aside from moral considerations, they said, influx control was not working and had not worked anywhere else; throughout history people had been drawn to urban areas. The new constitution offers blacks no protection from forced relocation, often called "black spot" removals or, euphemistically, "ethnic consolidation," where white-designated lands are sealed off by police while the villages are razed and the population taken away to the homelands.

The government has admitted that it has relocated almost two million blacks since 1960, and conceded further that there has been "an element of force in some removals," but says relocation is now "development-oriented." In the Cape townships of Langa and Guguletu, that meant that development funds were halted to persuade people to move, part of a plan to shift the entire black population of Cape Town, numbering more than a quarter of a million, to a vast new township on the sand dunes of False Bay, almost 30 miles away, by the year 2000. Later in the year Botha hinted at some unexpected second thoughts. "Like it or not," he told the Cape provincial congress of his National Party, "the free Western world is extremely sensitive to large-scale removals of people who are moved just for the sake of moving them."

The easing of "business apartheid" has been recommended by a government commission, which proposed the opening of "defined central business districts" for trading by members of all races and the further desegregation of public facilities including cinemas and public transport. It concluded that the Group Areas Act was "not indispensable," but said residential areas must continue to be racially separated. A government decision to allow blacks to live and work in the western Cape, long a preference area for coloreds, was a small concession strengthening the hand of the new colored MPs who had campaigned for integration. The pillars that uphold the Group Areas Act and the rest of the apartheid system are the Immorality Act and the Mixed Marriages Act, which make sexual relations and marriage across the color line illegal. These show no immediate signs of crumbling, although a government commission recommended some changes and the Labour Party, which dominates the (colored) House of Representatives, campaigned strongly against these laws as well as in favor of black representation in parliament.

Discontent, simmering in black schools since early 1984, erupted around the June 16 anniversary of the 1976 clashes in Soweto and again in August on the eve of voting for the new parliaments. There had been no previous referendum of coloreds and Indians to determine their response to the new constitution, as there had been with the white electorate in November 1983. The whites’ favorable response strengthened the government’s hand against dissenting Afrikaners such as the Afrikaner Volkswag, or "People Guard," formed as a rival to the Afrikaner Broederbond to oppose the "reformist" policies of government. The Volkswag welded feuding conservative Afrikaners into a political force which could threaten some National Party seats in the next white election if associated parties agree to run single candidates.

A central element in organizing black demonstrations against the constitution was the United Democratic Front, a broadly based, nonracial coalition of more than 600 organizations including ratepayers’ associations, trade unions, community and church groups. The UDF was one year old in August when it achieved its first major objective—a low poll in the colored and Indian elections. "A spirit of defiance against race rule is alive in the land," a UDF leader said at the anniversary rally. "We speak with one tremendous voice from the Cape Peninsula to the northern Transvaal and from our eastern shores to Kimberley." Building on its successes in 1984, the UDF, which named among its patrons Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu and several persons banned or imprisoned, including Nelson Mandela, may go on to consolidate its support and make specific political demands such as the release of political prisoners for a national convention. Still, there are fears that the organization, or its leaders, may be banned.

A UDF president, Archie Gumede, and executive members of the affiliated Natal Indian Council, a passive resistance movement founded by Mohandas Gandhi 90 years ago, gained international attention when they took refuge in the British consulate in Durban after they had been released from detention by the Supreme Court and then ordered redetained by the government. They remained in the cramped offices of the consulate as British relations with the South African government deteriorated, finally provoking a reaction that damaged South African credibility, especially in Europe, when Botha announced that four South Africans released on bail by a British court would not return to Britain to face charges of illegally exporting arms components to South Africa in breach of the U.N. embargo. Three of the Durban Six, as they were called, left the consulate to protest against the linking of their sit-in with the so-called Coventry Four, and they were immediately detained by security police. The Times of London warned that "a broken international promise inevitably means a loss of credibility," and questioned whether the South African government could now be trusted in Namibia negotiations. Two of the remaining three fugitives were redetained when they left the consulate.

When the new constitution took effect on September 3, the worst rioting since 1976 spread through townships in the Vaal triangle south of Johannesburg, an industrialized area of high unemployment and heavy retrenchment with the highest cost of living in the country. A "stayaway" from work had been organized to protest rent increases, and several people died in a wave of attacks on black councillors and their offices and property. By the end of the year, more than 200 people had died amid millions of rands worth of damage to shops, schools, libraries, houses and churches. Several local councillors resigned. "South Africa can hardly afford to allow its black urban complex to remain flashpoints that can explode at any moment," said an Afrikaans newspaper, which identified the causes of the demonstrations as the black education system and poor economic and social conditions, triggered by the increases in rent.

"The complete disenfranchisement and exclusion from all decision-making bodies compels the black man to vote with a petrol bomb," said Ntatho Motlana, chairman of Soweto’s influential Committee of Ten. The government reacted to this vote by sending the army into the townships and gagging dissent in 22 districts to prevent political demonstrations at the funerals of those who had died. Gatherings to commemorate the 1977 killing of Black Consciousness movement leader Steve Biko were canceled.

Then, for two days in early November, between 300,000 and 800,000 workers stayed away from their jobs in the biggest mass protest in South African history. The "stayaway" was initiated by the Congress of South African Students to support demands for: the withdrawal of army and police from the townships; resignation of community councillors; a stop to rent and bus fare increases; the release of detainees and political prisoners; reinstatement of dismissed workers; withdrawal of an "unfair" general sales tax and other taxes; democratically elected student representative councils at black schools; and abolition of educational age requirements for blacks.

The demands drew a broad range of support and marked a new phase in the history of anti-apartheid protest with the coalescing of action by students, community groups and organized labor. Its success brought home to other sectors of the society just how dependent they are on the labor of black workers and how deep the level of black discontent has become.

The key role played by trade unions, including those which had previously concentrated on shop-floor issues and avoided political involvement, highlighted the strength of organized black labor. Two recent disputes had developed into tests of strength. The Metal and Allied Workers Union and the South African Boilermakers’ Society held a joint ballot which overwhelmingly supported strike action, the first time an emerging, mainly black, union had undertaken such action with a long-established union. And the first threatened legal strike by black mineworkers was settled after a bloody and costly dispute in which at least seven gold-miners were killed, about 500 injured and a considerable amount of mine property destroyed. The National Union of Mineworkers, which saw its membership grow from four percent of the country’s half a million black miners in 1983 to 20 percent in 1984, warned that bargaining will get tougher as the membership grows larger.

Coupled with nonwhite discontent was the turbulence of the economy; white South Africans had been living beyond their means for the past three years and now faced the reckoning. The finance minister of ten years was replaced with a younger man, a rising star of 44, Barend du Plessis. Du Plessis rapidly drew protests from businessmen, bankers and consumers when he introduced an austerity program with measures to curb consumer spending, cut imports, reduce inflation and strengthen the rand, at a time when expensive new infrastructures were required for constitutional reform and when the expectations of other racial groups were at an all-time high, demanding a larger slice of the cake in improved education, health and social services. The good news he served up to his financial constituency on his return from the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank was the country’s relative creditworthiness abroad.

At the close of 1984, the Afrikaner rulers of South Africa still had a long way to go to gain international acceptance and economic stability. The phrase "neo-apartheid" to describe the current situation was not coined by radical opponents but by a conservative financial journal, The Economist of London, which argued that there had been no shifting of course and that the co-option of coloreds, Indians and urban blacks was always part of National Party strategy. "Neo-apartheid" meant the weakening of classical apartheid through economic change, the dismantling of some bits of "petty" apartheid and the extension of limited political rights to coloreds and Indians, coupled with the retention of a racially biased franchise, harsh implementation of influx control through forced removals and continued restrictions governing where people live and work.

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  • David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, former correspondents for The Observer (London) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, respectively, have lived in Africa for several years. Their book, The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War, was published in 1980. They are now directors of Zimbabwe Publishing House, which they established in 1981.
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