Pretoria’s confident of controlling Nujoma

The South African government has not only come to terms with the idea of an independent Namibia –  it has also accepted that its northern neighbour will almost certainly be ruled by President Sam Nujoma of Swapo. Pretoria is prepared for this eventuality, say observers, because it believes an independent Namibia cannot pose a major threat to its power in South Africa. "They're hoping Nujoma will turn out to be about as effective an anti-apartheid campaigner as King Mswati of Swaziland," said one observer at this week's historic signing of the Brazzaville Protocol.  

Analysts monitoring the eight­-month negotiation process, which has now passed its penultimate stage, believe Pretoria's decisionmakers have calculated the political equation of pulling out of the peace deal, or having Nujoma in power- and decided the latter is the lesser evil. "I think they've decided to swallow the bitter pill because it serves their long-term interests," says Alan Begg, a senior editor at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). "They believe there is an element of 'controllability' over any new government, and as things stand they have a strong case."  If the observers are right, it means Pretoria has decided to weather the inevitable Conservative Party storm over "the selling out of the white South-Westers", and will probably try to offset the damage by claiming credit for achieving regional peace and "ridding Africa of Cubans".

SAIIA research officer Gary van Staden thinks Pretoria "is under no illusions that Swapo will win an election – that is not to say they won't do their best to promote the opposition, as in the Zimbabwean case." Even if this sort of aid in the form of "funding, vehicles and the like" is forthcoming, their sights will not be set too high: "-they know the Multi Party Conference is in disarray, and they know the plan to build the MPC into a viable opposition has failed."

In a statement issued by Swapo's Department of Information and Publicity in Luanda yesterday, the liberation movement makes it clear that a fight is expected from the South Africans. While "standing ready" to proceed with the independence process, Swapo says it "does not underestimate the difficulties that Pretoria is likely to try and create between now and April 1 1989 … (the South African army is already involved in) election campaign activities … and South Africa is still arresting and detaining Swapo political activists."

Nevertheless, "Swapo is confident that … the movement will win the November 1 1989 elections and lead the country to independence". But no matter how "progressive" a government is installed in Windhoek, it will not be able to extricate itself entirely from South Africa. Abhorrence of apartheid will not change economic and military realities – as countries like Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho have discovered. "Swapo has indicated it will not go for extensive nationalisation," says Van Staden,  "but will choose the Zimbabwe route of the gradual acquisition of shares. This leaves the enormous South African-owned mining companies, and manufacturing industries. There will be unavoidable eco¬nomic dependence on South Africa."  


Van Staden says the likely South African retention of Namibia's only Jeep-water port, Walvis Bay- until at least after independence – is another powerful South African lever. Besides its strategic positioning and fishing and salt industries, there are substantial infrastructural and manufacturing concerns in the enclave. "It is too expensive to develop Luderitz as an alternative," he says, 'and Walvis is in any event integrally linked to Namibia and vice versa."

Begg says "one gets the feeling that, the South African Transport Services are making provision for arrange­ments with any new government." There are also indications from diplomatic sources that a long-standing South African concern – that the African National Congress will set up base in an independent Namibia- is not considered pressing. It is believed the ANC has tacitly conceded it will not be able to establish military bases in the country, and will probably content itself with diplomatic representation, as in Zimbabwe.

Begg adds that Pretoria has probably been reassured by the fact that important elements of Namibia's white community appear to have accepted the inevitability of majority rule. He points to the meeting between several Windhoek establishment fig-ures and Swapo in Stockholm earlier this year, and says that "even (Transitional Government leader Dirk) Mudge is said to have accepted it's time to sink or swim. Minority protection is over."

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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Shaun Johnson
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