Has the South African government at long last decided to bow to the United Nations and relinquish its control of South-West Africa -- the vast, mineral-rich land it has ruled in trust since 1919? So often has Pretoria gone back on its promises that any great optimism would be foolhardy. Nonetheless, hopes can again be cautiously raised with the news that South Africa has given conditional agreement to putting into effect a UN plan for independence of the territory by the end of 1981.
For the sake of Namibia, as the land is now called, and for the sake of peace and stability throughout the region it is to be earnestly hoped Prime Minister P. K. Botha follows through with the statesmanship required to bring this longstanding conflict to an end. He and his country can only benefit if he does.
Much rides on a "trust-building" conference to be held in Mozambique in January between the South African-backed political leaders of Namibia and the guerrilla leaders of SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization). If mutual suspicions and mistrust are dispelled, the plan can go forward. A cease-fire would take place in March and elections for an assembly in October. A UN peacekeeping force, meantime, would patrol a demilitarized zone along Namibia's border with Angola -- a plan to which Angola responsibly gave its assent some time ago.