South Africa's external relations since World War II have developed on the basis of an interaction between external and internal factors. The external factors have included the heightened consciousness, particularly in the Western world (and reflected in the United Nations Charter), of human rights as an issue affecting international relations; the anticolonial movement, particularly as expressed in the achievement of independence throughout Africa; and the cold war conflict between the Western and Communist powers. The inability of South Africa's internal political system to adapt adequately to these far-reaching changes in the postwar world caused a progressive deterioration in its external relations, resulting in increasing international isolation on a political level (though not economically).

The intimate link in South Africa's case between external relations and internal domestic policies is obvious, but what is not always appreciated is the important role of external factors in a rapidly changing world in bringing the internal racial situation into the international arena. The basic internal racial features of the country, including discrimination in policy and social custom, denial of political rights to blacks, and economic exploitation, date back to colonial times. Even the political, economic and social discrimination embodied in legislation (which provides the ground for the most serious criticism of the South African system) did not begin with the advent to power of the National Party government in 1948, although it has been greatly deepened since then. Rather, the basic internal political problems, as well as the moral issues involved, have existed since the South African Union was founded in 1910, but external factors have increasingly impinged in recent decades, affecting the attitudes and policies of other countries toward South Africa, as well as the attitudes of blacks and whites within the country.

In recent years, the South African government has attempted to cope with the changing external environment through its "outward" policy, which was aimed at breaking out of the threatening isolation and establishing new links for South Africa, not only in Africa, but in other regions of the world. The policy was initiated in the mid-1960s, in reaction to the increased pressures which built up after 1960. These were a result of the interaction of internal disturbances (Sharpeville) in 1960 and dramatic external changes occurring at the same time (the nationalist movement for political independence in Africa, which reached its peak in the early 1960s).

With specific reference to Africa, the policy of "dialogue" with the countries of black Africa was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it enjoyed some limited success. Previously, the government's main concern had been its relations with the Western world, rather than with Africa, and earlier attempts to develop relations with other African states were intended more as a means of improving its image overseas than of dealing with Africa for its own sake.

However, a sense of urgency was still lacking in these policies, and they did not appear to take realistically into account the increasingly critical issues close to home: that is, the issues dividing South Africa from the rest of the continent-the conflict in the Portuguese territories; the Rhodesian dispute; the South West Africa/Namibia issue and the racial situation within South Africa itself. Although there were many important links between the countries of the region, dating from colonial times, and potential advantages in closer cooperation for mutual benefit, the centrifugal forces were in fact growing stronger, as a result of these unresolved political disputes.

Paradoxically, the sudden collapse of Portuguese authority halted this centrifugal trend, at least temporarily, and forced South Africa, as well as other neighboring countries, to give immediate and serious attention to the problems within the region.


For South Africa, the dramatic shift in Portugal on April 25, 1974, resulting in revolutionary changes in Mozambique and later in Angola, removed what had amounted to buffers, both physical and psychological, against the threat of militant black nationalism. Portuguese protection of South Africa's flanks was gone, and in its place movements dedicated to revolutionary change were coming to power. In particular, the issue of Rhodesia, in which the neighboring countries of Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa were already involved to a greater or lesser degree, was seen as the one which could now lead to direct confrontation, unless action were taken to change direction.

To many outside observers the speed with which policies were reassessed, and the subsequent drawing back from confrontation, was surprising, because they had assumed that, with the collapse of Portuguese resistance, black states and nationalist movements would push right on with the liberation of Rhodesia, Namibia, and then South Africa itself, using the same means of armed struggle as had overcome the Portuguese. But this was an oversimplification; the Zambian government and even Mozambique's ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) no doubt realized that the circumstances which had brought about the collapse of Portuguese rule had no exact parallel in the rest of white-ruled Southern Africa. Moreover, the economic situation in Zambia was not at all propitious for a direct military confrontation, and FRELIMO needed time to consolidate its own position, politically and economically. Diplomatic negotiations began, therefore, soon after the Portuguese collapse, although the negotiations did not emerge into the open until the end of 1974, when agreement was reached to begin discussions on a Rhodesian settlement. The aim at that stage on all sides was to find ways of achieving a peaceful resolution of differences through meaningful accommodations, and the South African Prime Minister stated (in December 1974) that the consequences of failure in these efforts would be "too ghastly to contemplate."

The relaxation of tension and the negotiations which followed were based mainly on a degree of coincidence of interests between South Africa and Zambia, concerning the need for a Rhodesian settlement and for the avoidance of disintegration in Mozambique. The basis of the South African détente policy was indicated in Prime Minister John Vorster's speech of October 23, 1974, in which he said inter alia that Southern Africa had come to a crossroads, where it had to make a choice between peace and the escalation of strife. Zambia's response came in a speech by President Kenneth Kaunda a few days later, in which he referred to Mr. Vorster's "crossroads" speech as "the voice of reason" which Africa had been waiting a long time to hear.1

A concerted effort was made to settle differences within and between the countries of the subcontinent through direct negotiations between the parties concerned. Outside powers were not involved, and even the United Kingdom, which claims de jure sovereignty over Rhodesia, was not directly included in the negotiations. South Africa, for its part, has tried to act as a regional power, acknowledging as the first priority in its foreign policy the need to come to terms with the other states of its own region, as well as the need to deal realistically with the unresolved issues dividing it from these states-issues now threatening South Africa's own security.

The efforts to resolve the conflict situation on a regional basis have also had the positive effect of drawing attention to the opportunities for cooperation which exist within the region, if the political divisions can be overcome, for instance in the fields of trade, agricultural and industrial development, technological and scientific progress, transport, the provision of power (based on the region's coal and hydroelectric potential), and the exploitation of vast mineral and other natural resources, etc. These opportunities provide the incentive for efforts to overcome the critical problems. In fact, it is a further paradox of the present conflict situation that the very conflicts themselves have caused more people to think in regional terms about Southern Africa than ever before. One vital fact is that seven of the eleven countries in the region depend for their access to the sea on the four with coastlines (plus Tanzania in East Africa which provides an outlet at Dar es Salaam).

Although the year following Mr. Vorster's "crossroads" speech did not see the beginning of meaningful negotiations within Rhodesia, the détente efforts were continuing in the second half of 1975 within the regional context. In August a South African-Zambian summit meeting was held on the Victoria Falls Bridge in a further major initiative aimed at bringing together the government of Prime Minister Ian Smith and the black nationalist leaders. This main aim was not achieved, although negotiations between Mr. Smith and one of the leaders, Mr. Joshua Nkomo, did begin within a few months. Nevertheless, the meeting between Mr. Vorster and Zambia's President Kaunda was of considerable significance, in that it openly demonstrated the extent to which the two leading governments of Southern Africa were willing to try to find regional means to solve the area's problems. At this time, however, a new conflict was developing, which would soon seriously complicate these regional initiatives, and focus the world spotlight on Southern Africa.


While attention was focused on Mozambique and Rhodesia, a critical situation was building up in Angola. Of major significance in the Angolan conflict was the intervention from outside in this war. Apart from the involvement, on one side or the other, of neighboring African countries (i.e., Congo-Brazzaville, Zaire, Zambia and South Africa), there was direct involvement of the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and the United States (largely covert in the case of the latter two). This non-African involvement made Angola for a time a focal point of both Soviet-American and Soviet-Chinese rivalries. Although the dispute between the United States and the Soviet Union was more public, the rivalry with China over influence in Africa was probably a more important part of Soviet motivation, and here the U.S.S.R. has won a notable victory with its intervention in Angola.

Chinese support for liberation movements and development projects had steadily been winning China respect and influence, especially in East and Central Africa. But the decisiveness of Soviet action in Angola, in support of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), together with the invaluable assistance of the Cuban Army (without which the huge quantities of Soviet weapons would have been ineffective), could not be matched by the Chinese in their initial attempts to support the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The effect has been a decline in Chinese influence on FRELIMO in Mozambique and with the Rhodesian nationalist movements.

South Africa's military intervention in Angola appeared to be a blunder. It also seemed out of character for a government devoted to the principle of nonintervention, which had made a major effort, with considerable success, to maintain cooperative functional relations with the FRELIMO government of Mozambique. Admittedly, South Africa's intervention was a very limited one, and its military capability was by no means fully committed-not even that part present at the time on the borders with Angola. But why was even this limited intervention undertaken? Paradoxical as this may sound, the reason for the involvement must be found in the context of the South African government's policy of détente in Africa.

The détente policy was conceived as a means of normalizing interstate relations and of working for stability in a region threatened by sudden and uncontrollable change. Change, it was recognized, would have to take place; but as far as possible, the issues threatening to lead to confrontation should be settled by negotiation. In this approach Prime Minister Vorster appeared to have the general support of President Kaunda (although the latter denied that détente yet existed in the region while South Africa's policies internally were unchanged). The concrete results of this approach on the Rhodesian issue were not forthcoming as easily and quickly as was perhaps earlier expected, but discussions were still proceeding in an effort to break the deadlock. Then a situation developed in Angola which was perceived in South Africa as a serious threat to détente-namely the intervention, on behalf of the MPLA, of the Soviet Union and Cuba, powers which, it was felt, could only intend to destroy any possibility of the peaceful resolution of differences in the area.

The decision to become involved in assisting the UNITA/FNLA alliance was made easier by the realization that another important neighbor of Angola, namely Zaire, was also vitally interested in preventing the Soviet-backed MPLA from achieving domination, while Zambia was committed to a coalition of the three. What the nature of the contacts with other African states was on this question is not known, but that South Africa did not act unilaterally in its Angolan involvement has been corroborated by the UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi, who said that the South African government consulted Zambia, Zaire and the Ivory Coast, and did not act without their "approval." He also said, indicating some disappointment after the South African withdrawal toward the South West Africa/Namibia border in February, that Pretoria had always acted "painfully" correctly.2

The South African government thus considered that it was acting, not only in its own interests, but also in those of other African states, and it hoped to prove by its actions that it was willing to support them in resisting Communist encroachment. This, it was hoped, would further the détente policy, particularly among those considered to be the "moderate" and anti-communist states of Africa. When the Organization of African Unity (OAU) held its special summit meeting in late January 1976, the division of the members equally between those supporting the recognition of the MPLA as the Angolan government and those opposing this recognition was interpreted in South Africa as a vindication of this policy.

Another important element in the South African approach was the belief that the government was acting in the interests of the West, particularly the United States, which was then supporting the anti-MPLA forces too-until the congressional decision to cut off support in December 1975. Whether there was actual encouragement from any source in the U.S. Administration is not known (and officially it has been denied that any U.S. "approval" was given). But at least the indications are that there was no positive discouragement, and that in fact the South African presence suited American policy, as the only means of preventing the collapse of the anti-MPLA alliance in Angola, at least until the OAU met in late January.

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the South African policy was based on four miscalculations. In the first place, the considerable increase in Soviet weapons support and the introduction of large numbers of Cubans were probably not fully anticipated. This meant that a much larger commitment than originally planned would have been required. Second, given the emotional hostility to the South African government in black Africa, it should not have been expected that any black states, even so-called moderate ones, would permit themselves to be publicly associated with South Africa's intervention-even if they secretly connived at it. Third, if continued American support, material or moral, was expected, then there was a serious misunderstanding of the American mood and the working of the American system. This latter miscalculation was even more grave, if there was an expectation that the United States would become more openly and more directly involved itself in Angola, in opposition to the Soviet Union. Fourth, there was apparently a hope, which proved to be misplaced, that the OAU would, if given the chance, act to form a national government out of the three movements.

It must be added, however, that the South African government was apparently misled, to some degree at least, into these miscalculations, and there was considerable bitterness expressed in South Africa after both the United States and Zambia supported condemnations of the South African Angolan involvement in the U.N. Security Council debate at the end of March 1976. For instance, the South African Foreign Minister commented in a speech in Parliament on April 26, 1976, that "the Western attitude is one of uncertainty, indecision, powerlessness, if not one of defeatism" and that "Angola has demonstrated that in times of crisis we cannot rely on the West in general and on the United States in particular, and that at least we know where we stand now."3

Although the eventual complete withdrawal of its forces at the end of March 1976 was not due to a military defeat, the Angolan episode proved to be a serious political embarrassment. But this unfortunate episode has not had the negative effects for South Africa itself which might have been expected. There is no confrontation between South African forces and the MPLA at present on the Namibia-Angola border, and there is even a degree of cooperation which has permitted the continued construction of the joint hydroelectric and irrigation project at Ruacana on the Cunene River, on both sides of the border. The incursions by the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) units into South West Africa/Namibia have increased since the Angolan war, but this development would probably have taken place in any case, because SWAPO bases were being established across the border in Angola before the war. The one important difference is that previously SWAPO was linked more closely to UNITA, which had effectively controlled the southern part of Angola, whereas now SWAPO has moved closer to the MPLA, as the dominant movement in Angola, and to the Soviet Union from which it no doubt hopes to receive greater material support. But these trends are not a result of the South African intervention; rather they stem from the fact of MPLA dominance as well as the increased prestige of the Soviet Union.

The assumption that South Africa's Angolan intervention brought an end to its détente policy is also not accurate. The setback to the détente policy is due to the Rhodesian impasse, which is the most critical issue threatening peace in Southern Africa, as it was even before the Angolan war. That conflict has certainly affected the efforts to achieve a peaceful Rhodesian settlement because of the encouragement it has given to Rhodesian nationalists to pursue an armed struggle rather than to negotiate for a settlement. The conflict in Angola between black nationalist movements has also negatively affected the attitude of whites in Rhodesia, providing them with a frequently used argument that an Angola-type conflict situation would be repeated in Rhodesia if the whites were to give up power. There has thus been a hardening of attitudes on both sides.

The most significant and far-reaching implication of the Angolan conflict, however, is the direct involvement of non-African powers in the domestic and regional disputes of Southern Africa. New dimensions, including superpower rivalry, have thus been introduced into the Southern African situation. It is no longer possible to look simply for regional solutions; and for South Africa and other countries the circumstances in which their foreign policies must operate have now changed. These new circumstances, which include the current initiatives of the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, are affecting the region's most critical issue, Rhodesia, as well as the issues of South West Africa/Namibia, of South Africa's internal political development, and of the future political stability of both Mozambique and Angola.


Since its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, Rhodesia4 has always constituted a dilemma for South Africa. At first, the government's main concern was about the effect which this issue might have on relations with the United Kingdom, and Rhodesian independence was therefore not formally recognized, and never has been. As the years passed, this concern was superseded by increasing anxiety about the effect which the issue was clearly having on South Africa's attempts to normalize relations with other African countries. Rhodesia's growing economic dependence on South Africa led to the accusation that South Africa was chiefly responsible for the continued survival of the Rhodesian government-particularly after U.N. sanctions were imposed in December 1966 and May 1968.

The failure of the détente policy to produce the hoped-for results in Rhodesia has sorely strained the constructive relationship being developed with Zambia, and President Kaunda has accused Mr. Vorster of preventing majority rule by refusing to take effective action. President Kaunda's attitude has also been hardened by the alleged South African incursions into Zambian territory from South West Africa/Namibia.

In spite of its growing concern, the South African government could not, and cannot, participate in sanctions, for two general reasons. First, sanctions have been recommended by the U.N. General Assembly against South Africa itself, and the government has always considered it against its interests that sanctions should be seen to succeed anywhere. Second, it is highly doubtful that the government could maintain the support of its own white electorate if it took strong measures, such as closing its borders with Rhodesia, to impose pressures on Mr. Smith's government. However, it did take a meaningful step to assist the détente negotiating process by withdrawing South African police units from Rhodesia in 1975 and may now have to exert other coercive influences in its own interests and as part of an agreement with the United States.

Mr. Vorster is significantly constrained by the sympathetic identification of many South African whites with Rhodesian whites. This is heightened when terrorist incidents involving the murder of civilians occur in Rhodesia, especially when the occurrences are near the South African border. Mr. Smith's government is aware of this emotional support and, in the interests of its own survival, has tried to appeal to the South African electorate in its public statements, over the head of the government. On the basis of his perception of South African attitudes, Mr. Smith no doubt believes that, when the chips are down, South Africa is bound to come to his assistance. Even though the South African policy now is clearly not to become directly involved militarily, and in spite of the fact that this policy has wide support from the South African press, business community, etc., there is in fact no certainty that it can be maintained, if in the future there should be a threatened massacre of whites.

A related problem in the relations between the South African and Rhodesian governments concerns the differences between their respective domestic policies. To most people outside the two countries (and many within) there is no basic difference; both are seen as policies of white domination. But the two governments are well aware of the differences: the South African policy is one of separate political development, as between black and white, based on territorial divisions, whereas the stated Rhodesian policy is one of sharing power in the same political institutions, with political rights based on merit. In the normal course of development this announced policy (as distinct from what the private intentions of white political leaders may be5) should lead to a black majority government. Pretoria has made no secret of its attitude that the best solution for Rhodesia would be one peacefully reached within the framework of Rhodesia's stated policy.

Basic to this policy analysis is the assumption that the South African government has always seriously desired a settlement in Rhodesia and has accepted that this would involve, sooner or later, a black government in that country. This assumption is borne out by statements made from time to time by government leaders, by the public expressions of hope whenever negotiations were proceeding between Mr. Smith's government and the British or the nationalist movements, and, in particular, by the efforts made by Prime Minister Vorster to bring Mr. Smith and the nationalists together, during the 1974-1976 period.

However, the positive South African attitude toward this issue is somewhat tempered by uncertainty about the nature of whatever black government might take over power after a settlement. Needless to say, the South African preference would be for a "moderate" government which would be prepared to cooperate, at least on functional and economic levels, and there is real concern about the possible consequences of a radical and militant government coming to power. The uncertainty and concern among whites generally have increased since the escalation of violence in the past few years, with a militant government in Mozambique now giving full support to the armed struggle in Rhodesia, with the official backing of the Presidents of Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana. For the South African government, therefore, the deterioration in the Rhodesian situation has not only increased the sense of urgency in attempts to find a settlement, but also raised the level of concern about a possible domestic white backlash, if a South African-supported settlement should be seen to threaten the security of whites in Rhodesia and also in South Africa.

The recent retaliatory raids into Mozambique by Rhodesian forces are not approved by the South African government as they complicate settlement efforts, escalate violence and invite greater Russian involvement. Furthermore, they could harm South Africa's own delicate but reasonably cooperative relations with Mozambique. But for many whites, unaware of the political implications, these raids are emotionally satisfying-akin to the Israeli raid at Entebbe.

In all these circumstances Pretoria's room for maneuver is steadily growing smaller. There may be grounds for the view held widely overseas, that Mr. Vorster holds a key (if not the key) to a settlement, because of Rhodesian dependence on South Africa, but there are also clearly narrowing limits to this role, which are not always appreciated abroad. These limits are imposed by the domestic constraints interacting with the deteriorating security situation in Rhodesia and in Southern Africa generally. The question now is: How far can Mr. Vorster's government risk going in attempts to influence, even coerce, Mr. Smith's government to agree to proposals which may emerge from U.S. initiatives? The answer, of course, will have to await the outcome of these initiatives, but Foreign Minister Hilgard Muller's statement of August 13 has clearly indicated support for proposals based on majority rule with protection of minority rights.


The situation in Rhodesia does not, in any case, lend itself to easy solutions. It is widely assumed outside Southern Africa that effective sanctions, supported by South Africa, would quickly cause the collapse of Mr. Smith's government and that this would then lead almost automatically to "majority rule." A more likely result, however, is a collapse of the economy and complete disorder, with a struggle for power between various groups. In these circumstances, intervention by neighboring states (including South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia) and also by non-African powers-with serious worldwide consequences-could hardly be avoided. This scenario is the most likely one in the event of effective sanctions, because there are no indications that the present Rhodesian government, or any alternative government representing the whites, would simply agree to hand over power even under the threat of economic collapse. Moreover, there is at present no effective unified black movement to whom power could be handed over even if the whites were willing to do so.

If there is to be a relatively orderly transition, without a major disruption and its likely wider consequences, three basic requirements will first have to be satisfied. First, there must be a unified nationalist movement with which meaningful negotiations for a transfer of power can take place. Second, the relatively sophisticated Rhodesian economy must be maintained in reasonable working order through the transition period. Third, the whites (a) must be persuaded that it is in their long-term interest to agree quickly to a government representing the majority of the people, and (b) must have the confidence to stay in the country. These necessary requirements for an orderly transition are, of course, related: if the whites do not stay, the economy cannot be maintained (which is a reality of the situation, whether or not one approves of the past and present domination of the economy by whites), and the lack of confidence of the whites is aggravated by the disunity among the blacks, which is threatening to lead to an increasingly violent struggle for power among various factions.

The disunity among black nationalists is often cited by whites in Rhodesia as their reason for dismissing, as impracticable and even dangerous, the idea of transferring power to a government representing the majority. In fact, this disunity is seen by many whites as their salvation, making it possible for white rule to continue indefinitely. To this end attempts are even made officially to encourage disunity, for instance, by constantly stressing the tribal differences and rivalry between the Matabele and the Mashona (the two main tribal groupings). What is not appreciated is that, as white rule cannot be maintained indefinitely in any case, the long-term interests of the whites themselves require that there be a peaceful and orderly process of change as soon as possible. Further, such orderly change is only achievable through negotiations, which require a credible, unified nationalist movement. Without negotiations, the situation will continue to deteriorate, with violence escalating as it is at present. (The fact that the nationalists are divided is not preventing the guerrilla and terrorist activities; it may even make them worse from the white point of view, with various groups competing with each other to be more effective in causing disruption.)

Any plan for a negotiated settlement must, therefore, in the interests of all the people of Rhodesia, include efforts to bring about nationalist unity, as a priority. The four "frontline" Presidents who have been involved in all the settlement attempts, namely those of Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Botswana, have a crucial unifying role to play. Their influence on the factions among the nationalists is still strong, because the nationalists depend almost entirely on these countries for political and military support, including the provision of bases and sanctuaries. Without this support, they could not pursue an armed struggle within Rhodesia. So far, the four Presidents have acted together, and they have maintained a front of unity, at least publicly. However, there are now growing signs of some differences of approach among them, and of differences between them and some of the factions within the nationalist movements. In this regard the role of President Machel of Mozambique is an important factor, as he appears to be increasingly dominating the so-called Third Force, comprising the armed cadres of the nationalist movement, which has its main training camps and bases within Mozambique. Criticism of President Machel's domination has been voiced by black nationalist political leaders, who say their views are being disregarded.6 There are also some indications of misgivings on the part of the other three Presidents.

The establishment of a Third Force, based in Mozambique, resulted from the impatience of the four Presidents with the continued disunity among the recognized political leaders (notably Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Mr. Joshua Nkomo) and the conflict between the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), wings of the African National Council (with which the two movements, ZAPU and ZANU, had agreed to merge in December 1974). In January 1976, on the initiative chiefly of President Machel, a military committee was thus established in Mozambique to provide leadership unconnected with particular factions and particularly with past conflicts between ZAPU and ZANU-hence the name, Third Force. However, the unity of the nationalist movement has not been achieved, and even within the Third Force there are said to be serious divisions which include tribal rivalries, with the Karanga tribal element (the largest group among the predominant Shona-speaking people of Rhodesia) taking the lead. President Machel's influence on the Third Force makes him a key figure among the four Presidents in the factional struggles. He also has the closest ideological and military connections with the Soviet Union. Since the Angolan conflict, both President Machel's government and the Third Force have become increasingly dependent on support from the Soviet Union.

With the divisions among the nationalists continuing and with the Rhodesian government unable to move decisively toward a settlement, the similarities with the Angolan situation are becoming clearer. It would not be surprising if both FRELIMO and the Soviet Union were at least thinking about an Angolan-type solution, which would establish a government in Salisbury aligned with them. The factors which still inhibit such a course of events include the continuing influence of the other three Presidents, uncertainty about South Africa's reaction, potential American involvement and the position of black political leaders who still have considerable support in Rhodesia. The military and economic strength of the white Rhodesians is also a factor which must not be discounted, and in this regard the situation is different from that in Angola, where the Portuguese settlers had neither the will nor the means to resist.

The apparent mood of defiance among white Rhodesians is perhaps a natural reaction to the international and internal pressures. The isolation imposed by the international community has also had a very negative effect on their attitudes. Many whites now see only two alternatives: to resist change by force or to leave the country should change become inevitable. The second alternative is not as easily available to them as it was to most Portuguese in Mozambique and Angola, who were taken back to Portugal. But whites are now leaving in greater numbers, and as a discouragement the government has reduced the total emigration allowance to only Rh$1,000 (approximately U.S.$1,540) per family. The official immigration and emigration figures show that, while there was a net migration gain of about 600 in 1974 and of nearly 2,000 in 1975, there was a net loss of 873 during the first four months of 1976. (Press reports have stated that the net loss grew to over 2,200 during the first six months of 1976, but the accuracy of this figure has been denied officially.7)

These figures do not yet seem very dramatic, until it is realized that a large number of Portuguese, mainly from Mozambique, have immigrated into Rhodesia over the past two years, totaling over 20,000, according to unconfirmed reports. If this figure is approximately correct, it means that there has been hardly any immigration from any other source during this period, and that, with the Mozambique source now having almost dried up, the net loss of whites will dramatically increase. (Already it appears from the above figures that over 20,000 non-Portuguese have left in the past two years.) With a white population of only around 300,000 (out of a total population of over 6 million), this growing number of whites choosing to leave, in spite of the financial obstacles put in their way, must be a cause for serious concern to the government, and it may indicate the beginning of a crack in white morale behind the outward show of defiance.

This developing situation in and around Rhodesia, in which violence is increasingly seen by blacks and whites as the only means of resolving the issues, underlines the urgency of the need for new constructive initiatives aimed at a negotiated settlement. It is hoped that these initiatives will emerge from the discussions between Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Vorster. An American involvement in these initiatives, with even wider Western support, is now necessary-first, to balance the Soviet involvement and, second, to assist those who want a peaceful settlement, but who have been unable to achieve it themselves. External involvement may be regrettable, in the sense that it is moving the issues out of their regional context into the arena of world and superpower politics, but this trend now seems unavoidable. The need for external involvement was recognized by the South African Foreign Minister in a statement on May 17, 1976,8 despite South Africa's previous preference for a solution through negotiation between the parties in the region, without outside interference.

There should, however, be no illusions about the complexities of the situation, including the fact that there are deep divisions and conflicting interests which have to be reconciled-not just between black and white, but also between differing groups on both sides. Unless the United Kingdom, with American backing, is willing and able to impose a settlement, which is highly unlikely, ways will have to be found to bring together the conflicting parties and persuade them, with the use perhaps of both coercion and incentives, that compromises will be needed on all sides to reach a generally acceptable settlement which will avoid complete disorder throughout the region, and will bring long-term benefits for all concerned. The future healthy development of the region as a whole, without continuing conflict, will have to be the primary goal, and therefore any solutions proposed must not simply be temporary expedients, but rather ones which are consonant with the realities and which can therefore "stick."


The status of South West Africa/Namibia has been an issue at the United Nations for so long-30 years-and before that a concern of the League of Nations, that South Africans have become accustomed to think of it in the international context simply as a U.N.-South African legal dispute, and not as an African political issue. It is only recently that the focus of the South African approach has shifted, as the implications of this unresolved issue for future relations with the rest of Africa have begun to emerge more clearly. The dramatic developments in the former Portuguese territories have contributed to this shift, increasing the motivation behind attempts to resolve the issue and thus keep it from becoming as critical as Rhodesia.

The announcement in Windhoek on August 18, 1976, of a plan for independence of the territory as one unit by December 31, 1976, has given grounds for hope that a peaceful settlement can be reached. This plan, agreed to by delegates attending the Constitutional Conference which held its first sitting in December 1975, involves the appointment as soon as possible of a multiracial interim government which would be responsible for the drawing up of an independence constitution and for negotiating the transfer of the administration of the country from South Africa. Many questions concerning the implementation of this plan remain to be answered and it still requires formal acceptance by the South African government and parliament. Although there may be some negative reaction within the governing National Party, there is little doubt that the plan in its broad outlines will be accepted. More serious are the indications of a negative reaction on the part of other African states, because SWAPO has had no part in the agreement behind the plan and because of the absence of any reference to U.N.-supervised elections. This negative reaction may be reflected in the Security Council, which is due to meet after August 31 (according to its resolution of January 1976). However, cautious support given to the plan by Western states may prevent any drastic decision by the Security Council at this stage.

In looking at the background to these latest developments, it is clear that the two issues of Rhodesia and South West Africa/Namibia represent for black African states the last serious vestiges of colonialism, in which South Africa in effect plays the role of the colonial power. Official African declarations, in particular the Lusaka Manifesto of 1969 and the Dares Salaam Declaration of April 1975, make clear the distinction between these two issues and that of South Africa itself, and justify the necessity of negotiating with South Africa about their settlement. (South Africa itself is accepted in these declarations as an independent African state, but with unacceptable policies of racial discrimination.)

Negotiations over the future of these two countries are seen in South Africa as a means of removing disputes which have seriously affected the country's international position and thus as a way of reducing international and African pressures. This, it is felt, would allow more time to deal with the ultimate divisive issue of internal race relations, and at the same time give the South African government more credibility in Africa and the world generally.

Briefly, in the case of South West Africa/Namibia, the African states have pressed for many years for independence of the territory as one integral whole, and for prior recognition of the South West Africa People's Organization as the legitimate representative of the aspirations of the people. At first the demands were for a U.N. administration, leading to independence. Now, however, the declared policy of both the United Nations and the OAU calls for free elections, under U.N. supervision and control, leading directly to independence.

The South African government has in the past resisted these demands-in the United Nations, in the International Court, with visiting U.N. representatives and with African leaders-and instead has proceeded with the implementation of a policy of separate political development of ethnic groups (of which there are 11 identifiable in the territory, of varying population size) in their own territories or "homelands," with the aim that at least some of these should become independent. The notable example of a group, or "nation," which has progressed a long way on the road to separate independence, is that of the Ovambo people, comprising approximately 46 percent of the total population of over 850,000, and occupying an area in the north bordering on Angola. (All the other groups are thus much smaller; the next largest being the whites, numbering nearly 100,000).9

However, growing opposition within the territory to the separate development policy, in addition to its categoric rejection by black African states and the United Nations has led in recent years to a more flexible approach, with the emphasis on the right of groups themselves to decide on their own future and that of the territory as a whole. Moreover, the need to come to terms with other African states on this issue, in the context of the détente policy, has led the government to recognize that no solution is possible which does not provide for the independence of the territory as one integrated whole. This changed approach was given concrete expression in the Constitutional Conference and particularly in the plan proposed in August by the constitutional committee of that Conference. Even the Ovambo government, which had previously accepted the separate development policy, now supports the maintenance of the territorial integrity of South West Africa/Namibia.

Acceptance of the plan for independence within the territory and by the international community depends on several factors which are still at issue. One is the nature of the Constitutional Conference itself, from which the plan has emanated. The Conference comprises delegates from all the population groups most of which have elected governments. There are, however, objections by nationalist movements, particularly SWAPO, to the whole concept of group representation, excluding national parties or movements as such. While it is probably the most representative gathering to have taken place in the territory, in the view of most black African nations the exclusion of SWAPO casts doubt on the relevance of the talks.

Prime Minister Vorster, for his part, has made it clear that "all options are open" for the people of the territory, as represented in the Conference, to decide on their future, and that the South African government would not stand in the way of any decisions they might make. However, the rule accepted at the beginning of the Conference proceedings was that decisions would be taken by consensus, and this in fact gave the representatives of each group, including whites, a veto. So far, this has not prevented progress on various matters, including the latest decision to opt for early independence. But agreements still have to be reached on the form of the constitution, including such vital matters as whether there will be a unitary or federal state, and obstacles could still arise in the process of reaching agreement. There will be pressure for some form of federal structure in order to take account of group differences, not necessarily because of South African government policy, but because the differences between some groups are very real, with respect to language, culture, economic development and historical rivalries and conflict. For instance, there is the fear of domination by the Ovambos in a unitary state in view of their numerical preponderance.

As suggested above, a major obstacle to finding a generally acceptable agreement on the basis of the Constitutional Conference's plan for independence is the position of SWAPO. (There are in fact two organizations using the name, one which operates within the territory and which claims to be against violence, and the other which operates outside and which is devoted to liberation through an armed struggle. The latter engages in sporadic incursions across the border from Angola, and it has been responsible for a number of deaths and other casualties.) The South African government has said that as a political movement SWAPO cannot participate in the Conference, unless elected to a government of one of the group homelands. SWAPO has not been willing to take part in such ethnically based elections, even in Ovambo where its strength is considered to be greatest. Both the internal and external wings of SWAPO have also indicated that they would not participate in the Conference even if a special invitation were directed to them, unless prior conditions which are not at this stage acceptable to the Conference10-e.g., the withdrawal of the South African Administration-were fulfilled.

There is an increasing realization that a viable agreement about the future independence of South West Africa/Namibia, will require the participation of SWAPO for two main reasons. First, SWAPO has strong international backing, particularly in Africa, where it is recognized as the movement representing the people of the territory. Second, although there are no election figures to prove its strength within the territory (because SWAPO has chosen not to participate in such elections as there have been), there are indications that the South African Administration has underestimated SWAPO's strength, and that it has at least stronger support than any other single organization, particularly among the younger and more politically sophisticated Ovambos. As a result, attempts are being made to find ways in which SWAPO could be included in negotiations. Proposals have been made within the Conference to issue an invitation to SWAPO, but there has not yet been any decision on them. Mr. Clemens Kapuuo, leader of the Herero group and the best-known non-SWAPO nationalist has expressed willingness to talk to SWAPO, but criticized SWAPO's avoidance of elections and resort to violence. As far as the South African government is concerned, Mr. Vorster has in the past been adamantly opposed to talking with SWAPO, but he has recently indicated that the Constitutional Conference is free to invite whomsoever it wishes to participate. As it is unlikely that SWAPO will agree to participate in the Conference, if it continues on the basis of its present structure, an attempt may be made by the proposed interim government to negotiate with SWAPO, as well as with other political movements. The only alternative to negotiation with SWAPO will be to prove without doubt in a referendum or election that an independence constitution drafted by the Conference or the interim government is acceptable to the people of the territory.

In the immediate future much will depend on the reaction of the South African government and the speed with which it is prepared to take the necessary legislative and administrative steps for the formation of an interim government which is as representative as possible. Indications of the government's position, which will no doubt be influenced by domestic political constraints may be evident by mid-September, at which time the Prime Minister is expected to make a major policy statement at a Party congress. The reaction of the international community, for instance in the Security Council, will in turn be largely determined by Mr. Vorster's position, because he is seen as having ultimate control over the political future of South West Africa/Namibia. For instance, it will be up to him and his National Party to persuade the whites of the territory to accept a political dispensation which is very different from the policies of separate development they have supported for so long. Moreover, the black African states hold Mr. Vorster's government responsible for the decolonization of South West Africa/Namibia and in particular for initiating negotiations with SWAPO to that end. They will have to be persuaded to give the proposed interim government an opportunity to reach an acceptable settlement.


The consideration in some detail above of the Rhodesian and Namibian issues is not intended to imply that the question of South Africa's internal political development is any less important or less complex. Ultimately, the peaceful and constructive development of the region as a whole will depend on a resolution of the potential conflict situation within South Africa itself. Relations between South Africa and other states of the region cannot be normalized until blacks as well as whites are satisfied with the political system within which they must live. Without such normalization of relations, enabling South Africa to play the part for which it is equipped in the development of the region, Southern Africa will be impeded from fulfilling its great potential.

Pretoria has always maintained that the racial situation in South Africa is a domestic matter in which no other state or international organization has any right to interfere. However, in reality, the internal racial situation is the main divisive issue in the country's external relations, not only with Africa, but also with the West. This fact may seem too obvious to mention, but it is only in recent years that it has been publicly acknowledged by government spokesmen. The most notable such statement was made by the South African Ambassador to the United Nations, during a Security Council debate in October 1974, when he said that the South African government was committed to moving away from discrimination.

The problem is that, important as such a commitment may be in itself, its implementation is obviously very difficult for a government which is elected by a white minority. Authoritarian as the South African government may appear, it is nevertheless responsible (and responsive) to its own electorate, and this imposes a major constraint on it in any attempt to change its racial policies in such a way as would reduce the dominant and privileged position of the very people who elected it. Within South Africa the government has been criticized for arousing expectations which it is either unable or unwilling to satisfy. Attacks on the government's internal policy have increased since the disturbances in urban black townships and in black universities, which began with the Soweto riots in June 1976.

There is no doubt that these riots have had a profound impact, which has perhaps not yet been fully felt, on internal and external relations. Internally they have focused particular attention on the unsettled position of blacks in the urban areas, as distinct from those living in the rural Bantustans or black homelands, and externally they have already complicated the current efforts to initiate a negotiating process to deal with critical issues in Southern Africa.

No longer is it possible for Southern Africa to place these issues in a convenient time span with South African internal conflict being relegated for future settlement after Rhodesia and South West Africa/Namibia. Expectations have been aroused by events in neighboring countries, and the promise of independence in the territory may have an even greater impact, because there the government is seen to be acquiescing in the rejection of its own policy of separate development. Black militancy is still confined largely to the youth, but this could change if the basic grievances now being articulated more clearly and insistently are not taken seriously.

Indications of internal accommodations may come in the important statement expected from the Prime Minister in mid-September. Some administrative steps have recently been taken to reduce discrimination on racial grounds in the social sphere (known in South Africa as "petty apartheid"), and in the economic sphere there has been decided improvement in recent years in wage levels of black workers and in employment opportunities generally. In addition, in mid-August the government announced measures to extend the rights to long-leasehold to blacks in urban townships. However, the government continues to pursue its policy of separate development, under which urban blacks would not have citizenship in the cities where they work and live but only in the Bantustans. This is a serious bone of contention between the government and black leaders, without any indications at this stage of a compromise, which might basically affect the separate development philosophy.

In October 1976, the Transkei will become the first of these homelands to achieve full independence, and this will provide a crucial test of the acceptability of the government's policy-both internally and externally. The OAU took a definite stand at its July 1976 summit conference against recognition of the Transkei. Possible future recognition, however, may depend very much on how effectively the Transkei exercises its independence, particularly vis-à-vis South Africa. The question for the immediate future is: Will the Transkei become a new focal point of dispute within Southern Africa, or a contribution toward the resolution of conflict?

The current Western initiatives to resolve conflict situations in Southern Africa are bringing new pressures to bear on South Africa, not only to contribute decisively to a Rhodesian settlement and to grant independence to South West Africa/Namibia, but also to bring about change internally. These new pressures are taken seriously, because they come at a time when cold economic winds are also blowing around South Africa, fanned by the fall in the gold price. However, mixed with the trepidation and uncertainty about these new pressures there is some hope that Western involvement will help check the escalation of the violence which threatens blacks and whites alike.

The question of the effectiveness of external pressures for constructive change is not a simple one. While some pressures can have a positive effect, others can be counterproductive, resulting rather in a hardening of attitudes. It is natural to expect, of course, that outside governments should make decisions on policy toward Southern Africa with their own domestic and external interests primarily in mind. But the situation developing now in Southern Africa is such that it is in the interests of other governments, in the West at least, to make a positive contribution to the resolution of conflict and avoid the easy escape of offering simplistic solutions to African problems.


1 The texts of these speeches may be found in Southern Africa Record, Nos. 1 and 2 (1975), published by the South African Institute of International Affairs, Johannesburg.

2 Interview published in Rapport (Johannesburg), February 15, 1976.

3 South Africa, House of Assembly Debates, Fifth Parliament, Third Session, April 26-30, 1976, No. 13, col. 5433.

4 Although the name "Rhodesia" is used in this article, it should be noted that the colonial name of "Southern Rhodesia" has been retained in formal British and U.N. documents, while "Zimbabwe" is the name adopted by African nationalists and increasingly used throughout Africa and elsewhere.

5 Proposals have been made within the governing Rhodesian Front Party for a change of policy to a form of "canton" system, which would be nearer the South African policy. While an option of this nature may have to be considered in possible settlement scenarios, there would have to be clear indications, at least, that such a regional decentralization of political power would be a compromise acceptable to a majority of the people concerned, black and white. At this stage it is clear, however, that the South African government has given no encouragement to such proposals.

6 The conclusions here and below, concerning nationalist disunity, are based on private conversations of the author and on reports of statements by nationalist leaders themselves, e.g., The Times (London), March 26, 1976; The Star (Johannesburg), May 28, June 9, June 29, July 13, 1976; Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), July 6 and 7, 1976; Financial Mail (Johannesburg), June 4, 1976; Sunday Express (Johannesburg), June 6, 1976; The World (Johannesburg), June 27, 1976. See also "ANC in Disarray" in Africa Research Bulletin (London), October 15, 1975, and statement by OAU Secretary-General, as reported in To the Point (Johannesburg), June 4, 1976.

7 Information obtained from Rhodesian Diplomatic Mission in Pretoria.

8 South Africa, Senate Debates, Fifth Parliament, Third Session, May 17-21, 1976, No. 10, cols. 2372-74.

9 Population figures from South West Africa Survey 1974, published by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs in 1975, p. 4.

10 See, for example, statements as reported in the Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), May 19, 1976; The Times (London), May 29, 1976; and the Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), May 31, 1976.

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  • John Barratt has been Director of the South African Institute of International Affairs since 1967. He was formerly a Foreign Service officer and was a member of the South African Mission to the United Nations from 1958 to 1965. He is co-editor of Accelerated Development in Southern Africa and Strategy for Development.
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