Contempt for the World

Twice in a week, once with brutal force, South Africa has shown its contempt not only for black Africa but also for the Reagan Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy.

The first show of contempt came in a “destructive” engagement in which South African troops swept into neighboring Botswana, firing machine guns and throwing hand grenades in a raid against revolutionary members of the African National Congress. Eleven people died, two of them innocent bystanders.

For good measure, South Africa announced Monday that it is establishing a puppet government in Namibia, defying a 1978 United Nations plan for Namibian independence. South Africa President Pieter W. Botha said that the Namibia move was a sign that his country is losing patience with the U.N. approach--a cynical and hypocritical reading of recent events.

The cornerstone of Washington’s policy toward South Africa has been its efforts to negotiate the withdrawal of Cuban troops and advisers from Angola. South Africa insists on interpreting the presence of Cubans as a threat to any independent government that might be set up in Namibia, south of Angola. But any hope that the Angola negotiations might succeed soon were effectively destroyed when South African troops tried, and failed, to sabotage an oil operation in Angola, of which Gulf Oil Corp. is a part owner.


Washington recalled U.S. Ambassador Herman Nickel from Pretoria for “consultations"--a move somewhere in the middle of a scale of ways in which one government shows displeasure with another.

But the seriousness of South Africa’s extension of contempt for its own people to contempt for its neighbors and for international order makes it clear that the United States must reexamine its position that patience and persuasion will lead to constructive changes in one of the world’s most brutally racist societies.