The Reagan Administration, though surefooted domestically, is now absorbing the awkward truth about international relations which continues to surprise many youthful governments-that criticizing foreign policy is easier than making it, that making it is easier than carrying it out, and that political honeymoons are of short and not always blissful duration. Nowhere has this syndrome been more pronounced than in the Administration's attempt to construct a new relationship with South Africa.

The policy is still in its infancy. But a series of missteps has introduced confusion and alarm where the intention was precisely the opposite. There have been off-the-cuff presidential statements suggesting that a much warmer relationship with a "friendly" South Africa, unqualified by any quid pro quo, is in the offing; embarrassing visits by senior South African military intelligence officials; interminable delays over the appointment of the Assistant Secretary of State responsible for Africa; much official shuttling between Pretoria and Washington with little apparent reward and less explanation; alarm signals ringing in African capitals and not always adroit attempts to silence them; and some tantalizing leaks compounding the confusion.

It is understandable that a new government wants to make a new start. Reagan's advisers on Africa felt that the Carter Administration's policy in the troubled southern part of the continent was simply not working. So, equally understandably, they devised a plan which they thought would protect all the United States' interests in that region but would lay particular emphasis on the Administration's determination to counter Soviet influence, the symphonic theme of President Reagan's foreign policy. The tactical thrust of the new approach would be the creation of a closer and more harmonious relationship with South Africa, without jeopardizing the United States' important interests in the rest of Africa. The plan, like many good blueprints, was thoughtful, sophisticated and eminently rational.1 Unfortunately, the target areas-South Africa but also its African opponents-have so far shown little inclination to take their appointed places in this tidy construct.

The basic premise of the Reagan Administration's new "tilt" toward South Africa, characterized as "constructive engagement," is that P.W. Botha's government represents a unique opportunity for change in the Republic.

"We can cooperate with a society undergoing constructive change," Chester Crocker, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, wrote in a Scope Paper directed to Secretary of State Alexander Haig (and subsequently leaked to the press).2 The South African government's "explicit commitment in this direction" will enable the United States to work with it.

The vexing question of Namibia, it is admitted, is a primary obstacle, but if that can be resolved a new chapter in U.S.-South African relations, based upon common strategic concerns in southern Africa, can be opened. The nature of the relationship would not be merely symbolic. Small but concrete benefits, denied South Africa during the past two decades, would flow from the United States. Indeed, some are already in the pipeline. South Africa's request to have coast guard personnel trained in the United States has been granted; similarly, authorization for new South African honorary consuls in several American cities has been given, and a plan to bring the number of military attachés in each country back to pre-1979 levels is under discussion. These are sweeteners, sugar cubes rather than carrots, to introduce the new policy and to suggest that more interesting rewards may follow if the dialogue proves mutually beneficial.

It is still not clear whether the Namibian obstacle will be removed-the prognosis at the time of writing is not good-thus clearing the horizon for the new dawn in U.S.-South African relations. But the Administration stands by its judgment that constructive change in South Africa is both Pretoria's declared aim and that it is actually taking place.

How valid is that assessment? Has the South African government made an "explicit commitment" to change and are its feet already on the path of reform? Is apartheid in fact being eroded by government initiatives and undermined by societal factors? Or is the system merely being modernized and adapted, as it has been in the past, and is all this talk of "change" so much wool being pulled over Western eyes?


At first glance, the picture in South Africa these days is relatively benign. The country is booming, the economy flush from the high price of gold, and from other mineral exports. Blacks are crossing new economic and social thresholds as tellers in banks, behind the wheels of their own cars and as diners in previously segregated restaurants. The newspapers no longer carry stories of "suicides" in police cells. On Saturdays, the city centers are thronged with black consumers. Whites, on the whole, appear to treat blacks with more respect. The semantics of apartheid have been rationalized: Africans, once "Natives" then "Bantu," are now simply "Blacks." The government department responsible for black affairs is now reassuringly called the Ministry of Cooperation and Development.

But even at this relatively superficial level caveats must be made. While public parks are open to all races their toilets remain segregated, as do public toilet facilities throughout the country. The rules governing racial mixing in places like hotels, restaurants and bars are Byzantine. Blacks can go into some hotels and not others; in some they can eat and sleep but are subject to restrictions on drinking, dancing or swimming. Multiracial audiences watch biting avant-garde satire in Johannesburg's "off-Broadway" Market Theatre, but the city's cinemas remain strictly segregated.

Sport, in the forefront of change due to foreign pressures, continues to be a sensitive subject. The government has lifted all the legal restrictions against multiracial sport, and blacks are now playing on some South African international teams. But at the club level integration remains discretionary and a huge row broke out recently when a white Pretoria high school fielded two black boys on its rugby team.

There are, however, more profound changes. The most important is the rising power of black labor. Blacks have finally been given trade union rights and are steadily moving up into more skilled jobs. They can now become apprentices and the government has included them in its previous all-white training programs. Black consumer power is also growing, making the white producer more sensitive-and more vulnerable-to black demands.

The military has cautiously opened its doors to blacks but, as General Magnus Malan, the Minister of Defense, has pointed out, the army follows the government's policy of not enforcing integration. Black units are organized largely on ethnic lines, Coloreds have their own formations in the Cape, and white conscripts do their two-year stint in all-white battalions. The navy has a large number of Indians, including a handful of junior officers, and runs some integrated ships, but the air force is predominantly white. Some facilities like military hospitals are integrated but living quarters and schools for army families are not. Blacks do not get the same pay for the same job as whites, although military spokesmen say parity will come soon.

The reasons for these changes appear to be twofold. First, South Africa is short of skilled manpower. There simply are not enough whites to maintain the high rate of growth regarded as vital to the country's development or to man the expanded military machine created to defend the Republic against what is known as the "total onslaught." Second, the government seems serious about wanting to create a black middle class whose self-interest, it believes, must be brought more in line with the whites' interests. It was no accident that the only real increases in the last budget were for defense and black education, an interesting coupling.

The dynamics behind all this appear to be quite pragmatic: the government fears the revolutionary potential of vast masses of unemployed blacks and has been persuaded by the captains of industry that a trained and organized black labor force is conducive to rapid growth and a stable workplace. It has also taken the plunge, after years of hesitation, and started training and arming black soldiers on a large scale. In both cases it is aware that its policies may eventually have unforeseen and possibly counterproductive results. But it is confident that, with its enormous coercive and co-optive powers, it can control the direction of these changes and, if necessary, halt them if they show signs of getting out of hand.

There is no evidence to suggest that a fundamental change in racial ideology has influenced the government. And while these changes are likely to have some effect on South African society in the long run, they seem unlikely to change the balance of power between blacks and whites or the direction of the ongoing nationalist strategy during the five-year life of P.W. Botha's recently elected government. Assuming that the power and the will of the government is not weakened by other means, most analysts expect it would take decades before blacks' greater upward mobility in industry and the military could be translated into an effective political bargaining capacity.


This judgment is based on the fact that, the recent changes must be set against the cold realities of the apartheid system, whose strength, durability and ideology are manifest in hundreds of different laws, enforced in thousands of different ways. Housing, schools, hospitals and most forms of transport are strictly segregated. Controls over the whereabouts of black labor, recently tightened by greatly increased fines on employers who use or harbor unregistered workers and their dependents, continue to dominate black lives and wreck black families. Racial discrimination in the workplace, though no longer statutory, operates effectively through the closed shop. Black businessmen are not only denied access to the "free" enterprise system in white areas but are severely restricted in their own areas by a web of government regulations.

Dissent is crushed with an iron hand, sex and marriage across the color line remain criminal acts, and government spending continues to be grossly discriminatory. During the April election campaign the ruling National Party boasted of its record of spending considerably more on white education, housing and pensions than on similar services for blacks. The removal of "surplus" blacks from white South Africa (still 87 percent of the land) to the black homelands (13 percent) continues on a massive scale. About four million people have been moved since 1948 and at least another million are marked down for "resettlement." As the political fruition of the homelands policy is relentlessly pursued-Ciskei is shortly to become the fourth independent homeland-urban blacks are steadily losing what remains of their rights as South African citizens.

This familiar litany is what apartheid is all about, as any black South African will tell you. And it is here to stay. Not even the most ardent reformers in the government talk seriously about interfering with these basic elements of the system. Whenever the government has moved tentatively in this direction it has been forced to retreat, often on issues that might be considered the earliest candidates for reform. Examples include the Prime Minister's retreat from his own suggestion that the Mixed Marriages and the Immorality Acts might be scrapped, his turnabout on the participation of Colored schoolboys in the Craven Week rugby competition last year-a drama that almost split the National Party-and the confusion over the draft influx-control legislation. (The latter is still being reviewed following the discovery that it would effect the opposite of what was apparently intended-that it would make for a reduction instead of an improvement in black workers' security of tenure and mobility in white urban areas.)

The situation, it has been suggested, is rather like a log jam. From a distance there appears to be little movement. Closer up the logs can be seen bumping up and down against each other and occasionally changing places-but there is no forward momentum. Meanwhile, more logs are being swept down into the pile. Reformers inside the government and the Afrikaner establishment are all too aware of the danger of undermining the elaborate structure that protects white power and privilege, of inadvertently loosening a log or two that might release the rest. Hence the government's caution and ambiguity, even in areas where it has decided that qualified change is desirable and feasible as, for instance, with the residential rights of black workers in urban zones, the role of black trade unions, and the constitutional changes designed to give Coloreds and Indians a consultative voice in the white political system.

For the most part, however, the government prefers not to get involved, especially at the "petty" apartheid level where, ironically, it tends to claim most credit when addressing its foreign interlocutors. Actual reform usually comes through amendments and exemptions, at the provincial and municipal levels. Pretoria's coyness in endorsing a bold, or even a modest, program of reform might be more acceptable, given the fact that all governments have to answer to conflicting constituencies, if there were some unmistakable signs of progress filtering through the system, which, cumulatively, might make a case for "constructive change."

But after almost three years of P.W. Botha's leadership, which the Reagan Administration has characterized as representing "a unique opportunity for domestic change,"3 there is no solid evidence to support such a hypothesis. While there is great ferment in intellectual circles and a continuing debate about the need to introduce genuine change-to "adapt or die," in the dramatic phrase of the Prime Minister-there is neither blueprint nor strategy, nor even some sense of subterranean common purpose on the part of the government to alter the racial underpinnings of South African society.4 Nor is there, as far as I have been able to discover, an "explicit commitment" by that government to domestic change in anything other than the vaguest rhetorical terms. And yet Mr. Crocker has testified that the U.S. government has "observed and remains convinced that there is a process under way [in South Africa] which at the very least we can describe as open-minded. . .toward a society that is not based on racist principles."5


The prospects for government-led change suffered a further setback in the South African elections last April. The National Party was predictably returned to power with a huge majority (131 seats out of a total of 165). The Progressive Federal Party (PFP) on the Left picked up a handful of new seats to reach a total of 26, with 19 percent of the vote. The Herstigte ("Reconstituted") National Party (HNP) on the right gathered 14 percent of the poll but failed to win a seat. The New Republic Party, the rump of the once glorious United Party of Hertzog and Smuts, lost ground and ended up with eight seats. What does this simple arithmetic mean for the government during the next five years?

Some analysts interpret the results as a clear mandate for reform. They note the ability of the Prime Minister to retain such an impressive majority-the party lost only four seats, albeit one of them belonging to a cabinet minister-in his first election as party leader. The HNP, in spite of all its passion and hard campaigning, remains in the political wilderness, its natural habitat for the 12 years of its existence. The creditable performance of the PFP, the advocate of an end to apartheid and of power-sharing with blacks, indicates that a significant portion of the white electorate desires, and is ready for, change. The argument concludes that P.W. Botha, a man who is convinced that many aspects of apartheid are outmoded and unnecessary and that reform is vital for the white man's survival, will now be able to go ahead, relatively unencumbered by the right wing of his party, and introduce constructive internal changes.

The analysis is persuasive but, I think, seriously flawed. It is based on the assumption, easily made in the West, that the white South African electorate is relatively homogeneous whereas it is, in fact, riven by the old Afrikaner-English schism, with the English consigned to a perpetual and powerless minority of less than 40 percent of the total.

The key to the election lies in its impact on Afrikaner nationalism. White South Africans still vote largely along ethnic lines, and although there is some crossing-Afrikaners voting for the PFP and English backing the National Party-it remains marginal and this election was no exception. It is true that Afrikanerdom has a long history of division, but since the National Party came to power in 1948, political and ethnic unity have become an obsession. Growing internal and external pressures have only served to deepen the leadership's determination to keep Afrikaner ranks as tightly closed as possible and to reinforce its hold on power by all available means. The results of successive elections have proved a triumphant vindication of that strategy.

But not this time. A trauma of still hidden dimensions has been inflicted upon the Afrikaner volk. Viewed through the ethnic prism, the electoral arithmetic tells a different story. Close to forty percent of all Afrikaners who voted abandoned the National Party, most of them (33 percent) turning to the HNP, which believes in the unadulterated vision of apartheid as put forward by former Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd and rejects the government's modest attempt to give it a human face. A small proportion, estimated at about five percent, supported the Progressives. In Afrikaner politics nothing like this has happened since Daniel F. Malan brought the National Party to power in 1948 and ushered in the era of apartheid.

Fear of a major schism in Afrikanerdom haunts every Afrikaner leader. John Vorster's most traumatic moment in his 12-year tenure as Prime Minister was the breakaway of the HNP in 1969. Although still without a single seat in parliament, the HNP under its tireless, demagogic leader, Jaap Marais, is no longer a party of protest. It slashed Nationalist majorities wherever it fought. Seventy Nationalist seats in the Afrikaner heartland of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State are now vulnerable, if not actually marginal. This means that more than half of P.W. Botha's parliamentary caucus will be looking anxiously over its right shoulder during the five-year life of the new parliament.

"It is an ominous signal," said Ton Vosloo, a leading Afrikaner newspaper editor and one of the Prime Minister's verligte ("enlightened") advisers. "The HNP, after years on the edge of politics, has become respectable. It is not a happy time for Afrikanerdom."

The advance of the HNP is all the more remarkable because it is a party without a policy, unless trying to turn the clock back to the days of baasskap-crude white supremacy-qualifies as policy. It seems that Mr. Botha's rhetoric about reform and change was sufficient to drive large numbers of Afrikaners out into a new trek to the distant horizons of the Right. The irony is that his government had done nothing to promote black interests at the expense of white, a point he was at pains to emphasize during the campaign. The HNP, however, was astute enough to capitalize on other issues. It convincingly presented itself as a populist haven for Afrikaner blue-collar workers-it did particularly well in the mining towns-and as the scourge of big business and big government. It also profited from a sense of grievance among normally faithful National Party workers who were annoyed at the way the government had bypassed traditional methods of consultation through co-opting outsiders (academics, journalists, military men) for the policy formulation process.

The erosion on the Left was far less threatening. The PFP did well and much of the credit must go to the stylish leadership of Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, perhaps the most attractive figure in white politics. But the PFP's achievement was principally a consolidation of the English-speaking vote with no significant inroads into the Afrikaner electorate. The party will be better equipped to monitor and criticize the government's policies in parliament, although its leader has made it clear that he will play a constructive role if Mr. Botha embarks on a course of genuine reform.

The balance between verligtes and verkramptes ("reactionary") in the National Party was not appreciably altered by the election. Andries Treurnicht, the verkrampte leader, has consolidated his Transvaal base and remains the watchdog of apartheid orthodoxy within the party. During the campaign he declared that he had no differences with the Prime Minister over the essentials of party policy, a double-edged compliment for a leader who values party unity but also sees himself as a reformer. There seems little doubt that Mr. Botha would welcome an opportunity of ditching Dr. Treurnicht if it could be done smoothly and with a minimum of damage to the party. But the Transvaal leader is a cautious politician and aware that the rightward swing in Afrikanerdom is an endorsement of his own verkrampte beliefs, if not of the National Party itself. He also knows that his power to curb any reformist or autocratic tendencies on the part of the leadership is considerably greater for the foreseeable future if he remains in the party.


There are those who, despite the reactionary trends in Afrikaner politics, believe that apartheid is being steadily undermined by other factors. In addition to the erosive effects of burgeoning black labor and consumer power, they cite the modern Afrikaner's loss of faith in the system and the government's reformist intentions. It is true that many Afrikaners no longer defend apartheid and some failures have been openly admitted-for example, the seemingly hopeless long-term economic prospects of the homelands and the unstaunchable flow of blacks into white areas. But a partial failure of faith does not mean apostasy (although it might if another prophet were in sight). Unfortunately, most Afrikaners cannot envisage an acceptable alternative to apartheid that would ensure their survival as a nation. Most of them reject the PFP's federal power-sharing concept. And all too many agree with the basic HNP argument, that once you start unraveling the system the whole thing will fall apart.

That is Mr. Botha's dilemma. Since he became Prime Minister, he has been represented in the West as a reformer, a man of vision who is eager to dismantle apartheid if only the right-wingers in and outside the party would let him. He is, of course, nothing of the kind. He is an experienced party politician, of limited imagination and charisma, who is prepared to take some risks to modernize the system but who, at the age of 65, has no intention of becoming an Afrikaner Samson bringing the temple of apartheid crashing down around his ears.

At one stage it appeared that Mr. Botha thought he could create more power and flexibility for himself by building up a group of reformers around him, streamlining the civil service and making it more responsive to government, and bypassing much of the consultative apparatus of the National Party. Great hopes were pinned on the appointment of an almost totally verligte cabinet and on the expanded role of military men and other political outsiders. A few analysts even saw this process in terms of a drawn-out coup d'état, with the Prime Minister at the helm of a powerful modernizing autocracy, driving reforms over the head of the established institutions and the backwoodsmen of the party.

If this was indeed ever Mr. Botha's intention-there are doubts that it was anywhere near as dramatic as that-the failure of the government to capture the necessary momentum and the strong Afrikaner backlash in the election have fatally crippled the strategy. Parliament, the National Party caucus, the important provincial congresses and the party footsoldiers out there on the high veld have made it clear that their voices must be heard in policy decisions and the government must give a clearer idea of what is going on and what its intentions are.

Far from being an instrument of reform, then, autocratically or otherwise, the National Party is likely to remain a lame duck for the foreseeable future. The deep rift in Afrikaner politics that the election revealed has had a traumatic effect on the party. The instincts of those who lead it, whether it be Andries Treurnicht on the Right, Piet Koornhof or Gerrit Viljoen on the Left, or P.W. Botha himself at the top, must be to reunite Afrikanerdom and consolidate the party's ethnic power base, the source of its strength and, in their view, the volk's survival. And since the divisive pressures among the Afrikaners are most powerful on the Right, the nature of that consolidation must be a rightward reorientation.

The government is unlikely to scrap the reforms already in the pipeline-that would involve too great a loss of face-but they will probably be watered down to suit the more conservative mood of the Afrikaner electorate. Constitutional changes involving the President's Council, when they are finally unveiled, are likely to offer the Coloreds and Indians limited consultative powers and almost certainly separate parliamentary representation. There will also probably be a better deal for urban blacks. The electrification of Soweto, after many false starts, is now going ahead. However, no houses were built in Soweto last year by the government, not because they were not needed but because the government's underlying policy remains the restriction of the numbers of blacks in "white" South Africa. The number of houses available to blacks, a matter controlled almost entirely by white civil servants, will acquire an additional significance since the new influx-control laws envisage a house and a job as the key criteria for permitting blacks to reside in the urban areas. The government's decision to continue to allocate no funds this year for house-building in Soweto has been challenged by the greater Soweto Planning Council, itself a government body, and by the private sector. But there is clearly a strong resistance from ideologues in the government and civil service to changing the policy.6

In 1976, in the wake of the Soweto upheaval, liberal white South Africans were saying: "We've got five years to introduce fundamental change. If we don't we've had it." Today, they are saying the same thing. Five years until Armageddon, unless. . . . What has actually happened since Soweto has been a sophisticated reinforcement of the status quo, with the government's mildly reformist adaptations constantly shadowed by the threat of right-wing reaction. P.W. Botha's government is now facing another span of five years during which it can be expected to continue to strengthen the pillars of the apartheid system, with its reformist options even more tightly corralled by an explicit and highly dangerous right-wing political movement. There is little reason to doubt that the results will be more of the same.


Namibia was not an election issue although the HNP tried to make it one. The government's defense was simple and in electoral terms convincing: it had done nothing to jeopardize South African control over the disputed territory or to harm the interests of the 110,000 whites there, 65,000 of whom are Afrikaners, most of them of the unreconstructed kind. However, the issue remains volatile ammunition for the government's right-wing opponents, who are ready to cry "sell-out" at the drop of a diplomatic nuance. Mr. Botha appears likely to give priority to his domestic policies and to continue to protect his right flank by hanging tough on Namibia.

In the country itself, it is difficult to find a single informed voice that suggests there is going to be a swift resolution to the problem. Some of the reasons have to do with local politics; others are bound up with South Africa's perception of its interests in that vast, arid, unpeopled land. Ironically, while the international standing of the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) under its white leader, Dirk Mudge, has been enhanced by its appearance at the abortive Geneva conference last January and by indications from Washington that it will be more closely consulted in future negotiations, its prestige within Namibia has waned. There has been a marked polarization in the last year or so-to the white Right and the black Left-and the DTA has failed to capture the middle ground. Most analysts expect that if a fair election were held tomorrow, the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) would romp home to victory.

There have, however, been a number of changes under the DTA and the Pretoria-appointed Administrator General. Petty apartheid has, by and large, disappeared. Statutory discrimination-bans on mixed marriages or sex across the color line, and racial classification-has been removed. But anomalies remain. Blacks, for example, still cannot use the public library or the municipal swimming pools in the capital, Windhoek. The curious three-tier system of government-with functions divided among the center, the ethnically based provinces, and the municipalities-ensures that schools, hospitals and many other services remain segregated since they are "second-tier" (ethnic division) responsibilities. Opponents of the DTA assert that the ethnic layer of government is merely the old Bantustan system under a new guise.

The basic problem for the DTA, which includes representatives from all Namibia's racial groups, is that it has promised and even legislated reforms but not implemented them. Some members of the DTA blame Pretoria for not giving it enough power; others say it is the local whites blocking every move the DTA makes. (Other political parties accuse the DTA of not really trying, of enjoying the material benefits of office-large houses, Mercedes cars and plenty of spending money-and neglecting their responsibilities.)

Mudge's task of balancing white intransigence against black aspirations is more difficult than ever, despite the emasculation of the internal wing of SWAPO through government repression and the virtual disappearance of the other nationalist parties. His own power base among the whites was seriously weakened when his party lost badly to the right-wing AKTUR party in ethnic, or second-tier, elections last November. And it is a fact that white politicians in Namibia can-and do-appeal over the DTA to Pretoria. White civil servants who have a stranglehold on the administration can-and do-block unpalatable changes. Many observers feel that Mr. Mudge will never be able to square the circle no matter how much power and time he is given. "It's like Rhodesia when Ian Smith and Bishop Muzorewa got together with their internal settlement," said one analyst. "They finished up by pleasing nobody." (In some circles, the DTA leader is already being called "Mudgerewa.")

Robert Mugabe's victory in Zimbabwe has had important repercussions in Namibia. While it has given heart to SWAPO, it helped to fuel the white right-wing backlash in the November elections. It has also convinced the South African government that the DTA must be given considerably more time to consolidate itself and that, if or when elections are held, there must be no guerrilla bases in the country.


Mr. Botha has said publicly that he could live with a SWAPO electoral victory but does not think such an event likely. Cynics would add that it is not likely because he will never permit an election to be held. Throughout the long negotiations for an international settlement, the South African government appears to have operated on a "two-track" strategy. On the one hand, it has sought to negotiate a formula that would bring international legitimacy to an independent Namibian government willing to protect South African interests-the DTA or possibly some other combination that would deny SWAPO a winner-take-all victory. On the other hand, it has pursued the "internal option" by building up the DTA and giving it progressively more governing powers.

While the electoral prospects of the DTA appeared to be good, the South Africans seemed close to biting the bullet on a settlement. But the Zimbabwe shock, AKTUR's triumph in the second-tier elections, the knowledge that Mr. Botha himself would soon have to face his first electoral test in South Africa, and Ronald Reagan's presidential victory combined to convince the South African government that it would be prudent to postpone a final decision. The current unpopularity of the DTA reinforces Pretoria's reluctance to move at more than a snail's pace and strengthens the hand of the more hawkish policymakers who strongly oppose any solution that risks a SWAPO takeover.7

It might be a different story if there were a heavy price to pay for intransigence. But none is in sight. The war is of low intensity, probably unwinnable but not a serious threat. It has admittedly choked off foreign investment, slowed down local business and cast a pall of uncertainty over the future of Namibia. But South Africa can afford it in terms of cash and blood. It is also, in the words of one South African military analyst, excellent "on-the-job" training for South Africa's citizen army. With the growth of African National Congress (ANC) guerrilla activity in South Africa and deteriorating relations with Zimbabwe and Mozambique-black countries ruled by men who waged long and ultimately successful wars against white governments-Namibia's value as a piece of military real estate has been greatly enhanced in South African strategic thinking. The old argument of "why defend the Republic on the Orange River when you can fight way up north on the Cunene," has taken on a new significance. The presence of Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader, harassing SWAPO in southern Angola, also argues for holding onto Namibia for the time being.

The threat of sanctions, on the other hand, has now more than ever been reduced to a paper tiger by the three Western vetoes in the Security Council and the U.S. Administration's known view that they are no longer even a theoretical option in the United States' arsenal of pressures. The South Africans, looking around them, probably correctly surmise that there is no compelling reason for them to budge from Namibia, though they are much too astute to say so openly. Instead, they can be expected to continue to negotiate, doggedly fighting every inch of the way and sniping at U.S. officials they consider too savvy, as is their style.8 South African officials say they are not linking the Cuban presence in Angola with the Namibian issue. (The State Department also rejects linkage but stresses there is an "empirical relationship.") They are, however, opposed to an official U.N. military presence-no "blue helmets"-although an international force including some African contingents is apparently acceptable. The South Africans also want a set of constitutional principles to be established before elections are held, principles that will protect "minority rights," meaning not just the whites but all the other ten ethnic groupings in what sounds like a federal or even confederal constitution. Meanwhile, they can be expected to pursue the "second track" of their strategy, as the local army is built up, the DTA receives more governing powers, including control of the budget, and the territory begins to operate its own radio and television services.


The U.S. response is still being formulated. The Administration, after investing so much effort and political capital in its new policy-and taking a considerable amount of heat--will not want to register a failure at the early stage. Negotiations can be expected to continue, both with the South African government and with the Western "contact group" (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany and Canada) which has been sitting on the sidelines, for the most part, since last January. The United Nations will also be brought in because the Administration, somewhat reluctantly, admits that Security Council Resolution 435 (of September 1978), calling for U.N.-supervised elections in Namibia, remains the "basis" for the settlement.

But what happens when the South Africans dig in their heels? What leverage does the United States possess? Precious little, it seems. The main threat, the United States has suggested, is an American withdrawal from the negotiating effort and a halt to the promised nirvana of a warmer embrace of the Republic. Reportedly, this threat is not pure bluff. Secretary Haig personally dislikes manipulators and can be expected to call a halt if he thinks the process is not going anywhere. "Disengagement" will be accompanied by a cooling of relations-not an anti-South African policy but, presumably, a tapering-off of cordial dialogue, visits back and forth, and other trappings of "friendly" relations.

It would seem, however, that the United States stands to lose more than South Africa with the cessation of negotiations. The South Africans have grown used to their isolation and are proud of their self-reliance. They know that, however well they behave, the arms embargo is not going to be lifted. They also know that, however badly they behave, President Reagan is not going to turn the screws on them. Their expectations, admittedly pitched unrealistically high when he was elected, have already been cut down to size. They are not nearly as enchanted with the offer of qualified American friendship as Washington's donors think they should be. They are also aware that in possibly three years' time, the other lot may be back in the White House.

The United States, on the other hand, will at best have lost all basis for communication with the states of black Africa on the single crucial political issue for that continent, and at worst be identified with South Africa and its racial policies. In the context of the new warmer U.S.-South African relationship, a halt to further efforts on a Namibia settlement would only confirm fears about a new "tilt" toward Pretoria. Because much of Africa has an exaggerated idea of the amount of leverage the United States possesses against South Africa, their disillusionment and hostility at the new phase of U.S.-South Africa relations is likely to go fairly deep.

The reaction of black South Africans to the new policy may also run counter to U.S. interests. While the Botha government breathes a sigh of relief at the lifting of pressure, a perceived "tilt" toward South Africa on the part of the United States can be expected to strengthen Soviet and African backing for the ANC, and increase support for the groups within South Africa that take a more radical line, organizations such as the black consciousness movement, the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), and the more militant unregistered trade unions. There are now indications that the ANC is increasing its following in South Africa, partly by maintaining a "guerrilla profile" through regular acts of sabotage and attacks on police stations and other targets, and partly through the lack of serious rival organizations. Because "constructive engagement" aims at interacting with present holders of visible power in South Africa, it must exclude most of the black opposition. And the closer the engagement the more it implies approbation and support for the present status quo. Thus, in black South African eyes the warming of relations signifies, again, U.S. complicity in the apartheid system.

In sum, without a Namibia settlement, the new U.S. policy toward South Africa seems likely to create more liabilities than assets for the United States in any competition with the Soviet Union in that part of the world. Unless South Africa agrees to play the "pragmatic" reformist role that has been envisioned for it, the U.S. game is over. All of which will leave this country with a policy neither "constructive" nor "engaged"-and with significantly diminished leverage in the continent of Africa.

2 Chester A. Crocker, Scope Paper directed to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig on the subject of the Secretary's then forthcoming meeting with South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha on May 14, 1981. The paper was leaked to the black lobby, Trans-Africa, which made it available to the press.

3 Ibid.

4 One of the curiosities of returning to South Africa after an absence of almost five years is to find how little has changed, not least the intensity and the rhetoric of the debate about "change."

5 Testimony to the Subcommittee on Africa of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, June 17, 1981.

6 The government has implicitly accepted the right of blacks to a more permanent status in the townships by granting 99-year leases-though not freehold rights-to blacks who qualify. However, the process has been slow, partly because of government red tape and partly because blacks have been wary of the many conditions attached to the leases. Only 642 leaseholds out of over 100,000 approved stands were registered by March of this year.

7 General Magnus Malan, the South African Defense Minister, has flatly declared that a SWAPO victory under a Westminster, winner-take-all constitution is unacceptable. (Confidential memorandum of talks between South African and U.S. officials in Pretoria, April 15 and 16, 1981.) Dirk Mudge, the DTA leader, also made it clear at the Geneva conference that he was not interested in holding elections "so long as I know I am going to lose" (Donald McHenry's testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, June 17, 1981.)

8 The South African government and press are already suggesting that Chester Crocker does not have the full confidence of the Administration, a tactic also used against Donald McHenry when he led the Namibian negotiations.



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  • John de St. Jorre is a correspondent of the London Observer based in New York. He recently covered the elections in South Africa and visited Namibia. He is the author of A House Divided: South Africa's Uncertain Future and other books.
  • More By John de St. Jorre