Lost Chance in Southern Africa


U.S. policy in Southern Africa continues to be weakened by contradictions. As a result, an opportunity to provide leadership at a critical juncture in the politics of the region is being lost.

There are two primary and overriding goals: to maintain pressure on South Africa to end apartheid, and to speed independence for Namibia, the last of the African colonies, over which South Africa maintains control in defiance of the United Nations. The attainment of these goals can be facilitated by strengthening the neighbors of South Africa--particularly Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola.

In Mozambique, the former Portuguese colony on the east coast, the United States has been effective in moderating the extreme Marxism that marked the first years of independence. In supporting the government there, President Reagan has wisely resisted pressure from the American radical right to shift allegiance to RENAMO, an insurgent organization implicated in wholesale atrocities--most recently the killing of more than 300 civilians, including women and children, in Inhambane province. U.S. policy has encouraged Mozambique to become a nonaligned and independent nation, and the policy has also served to demonstrate a sharp separation between Washington and Pretoria--which regrettably continues to supply arms and intelligence to the rebels.


But in Angola President Reagan, with congressional encouragement, has become a supplier of arms to another rebel movement that is now fighting side by side with South African troops in southern Angola. That in effect makes the United States an ally of the South Africans against the government of an independent black nation. Worse, this flow of arms to the rebel movement frustrates efforts to persuade Angola to send home the 37,000 Cubans who provide both defense and technical assistance. Angola can hardly be expected to order out the Cubans when their presence is made essential by the guerrilla warfare. Yet the continued presence of the Cubans is used by both Washington and Pretoria to excuse the absence of progress in implementing the agreed U.N. plan to bring Namibia to independence--an excuse without merit or reason.

Continued guerrilla warfare in both Angola and Mozambique affects other independent nations, notably Zimbabwe and Zambia, because of its effect on the surface transportation of their exports and imports. They in turn are forced into continued dependency on South Africa at the very time when the best interests of the United States would be served by screening these nations from the influence of South Africa. The United States should, therefore, do in Angola what it is now doing in Mozambique--working to strengthen and moderate the ruling government and end the guerrilla war that serves, above all else, the interests of South Africa.

As the United States dawdles, South Africa appears to welcome each new day as an occasion for the disruption of development in neighboring black nations--part of its defense against moves for black rule within its own borders and its effort to consolidate control over Namibia. The result isa more dangerous Southern Africa as the opportunity for peaceful transition becomes more and more remote.