South Africa’s Brigands

One of the most regrettable consequences of President Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa has been the way it has worked to delay independence for Namibia. Pretoria’s continued defiance of the rule of law and international agreements reflects a confidence in South Africa that it can get away with it, that the worst that it has to fear is a “tut tut” from Washington.

From the first year of the Reagan Administration, the President’s counselors have elaborated on a plan that they themselves invented, linking independence for Namibia with the withdrawal of Cuban troops from neighboring Angola. And from the start it has been the perfect excuse for South Africa to maintain its illegal hold on Namibia while reinforcing a favored rebel movement within Angola.

The odious and disruptive strategy of South Africa was made all the clearer with the recent, and fortunately unsuccessful, effort to sabotage the Gulf Oil facilities in Cabinda--the principal resource of Angola. There seems little doubt that the intention was to weaken the government of Angola by this act of sabotage, which, had it succeeded, would almost certainly have been credited to the UNITA guerrilla movement of Jonas Savimbi, long a recipient of South African aid.

There is much to regret in the doctrinaire Marxist rule of Angola. Reagan’s fascination with helping contras overthrow doctrinaire Marxists in Nicaragua inevitably must inspire in him and his close associates a good deal of sympathy for what South Africa is trying to do in Angola. Indeed, the White House seems much more concerned about being able to claim that it drove Fidel Castro out of Angola than about delivering the people of Namibia, the last colony of Africa, to independence.


That is unrealistic and unreasonable. The Cubans in Angola do not pose a threat to Namibia. Their military role is defensive--a role made all the more essential by South Africa’s adventures and by its continued support of the UNITA guerrillas. The Cubans also are playing a helpful role in providing sorely needed technical assistance. The sabotage mission against the American oil operations in Cabinda reveals the contempt of the South African government for black Africa, making a mockery of its pretensions of cooperation and friendship.

Now, understandably, Angola has pulled back from a tentative plan for the phased pullout of the Cubans. And now South Africa is using this to justify further consolidation of its operations in Namibia, breaching its commitment to the United Nations resolution on Namibian independence just as it breached the Lusaka agreements to pull its troops out of Angola.

Perhaps there should not be surprise. This sort of international brigandage is consistent with the rejection of respect for human rights within South Africa itself. But South Africa can hardly be surprised when these actions inflame world indignation and accelerate moves to end racist rule in Pretoria.