Hope in Southern Africa

The opening of broader and more intense negotiations on ending the war in Angola and speeding independence for Namibia is a welcome development.

Much of the diplomatic work was done by the United States, but the effectiveness of the U.S. negotiators remains handicapped by the role thatis being played by the Reagan Administration, with congressional support, in supplying arms to the UNITA rebels in Angola.

During a meeting in London there was at least agreement to pursue within a few weeks a dialogue that would engage directly for the first time representatives of the governments of the United States, Angola, South Africa and Cuba. The participation of South Africa and Cuba is of particular importance because of the extensive deployment of their troops within Angola. As many as 45,000 Cubans have been serving in Angola on the side of the government--defending strategic installations, including U.S.-operated oil installations in Cabinda, and resisting the guerrilla war being waged by UNITA. South Africa has had as many as 9,000 troops, supported by tanks and aircraft, fighting on the side of UNITA, which also receives substantial military assistance from the United States.


The new negotiations are seen as a critical test of the intentions of South Africa in the region. Pretoria has sought to justify its continued resistance to independence for Namibia on the ground that the new nation would be vulnerable to the Cuban troops in neighboring Angola, arguing that those troops must be withdrawn.And it has justified its massive military commitment within Angola on the side of the UNITA guerrillas as essential to the security of Namibia. Most other nations have disputed the South African position, seeing it as a pretext to cling to power in Namibia.

There may be a shift in policy within South Africa. In recent days South Africa has made conciliatory overtures to Mozambique, the huge former Portuguese colony that borders South Africa on the east coast of Africa. After years of proclaiming peace with Mozambique but actively helping a murderous guerrilla movement there, the South Africans may be bowing to world pressure to come to terms with its neighbors.

A negotiated settlement to the war in Angola would eliminate the last excuse for delaying independence for Namibia. That in turn could herald the end of South Africa’s efforts to destabilize its black neighbors--something that is no less important than South Africa’s need to come to terms with its own black majority.