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South Africa has everyone guessing on Namibia independence

To the outside world, South Africa appears to be signaling that it is serious about granting independence to Namibia (South-West Africa).

But that impression is not holding up at home. In fact, knowledgeable analysts here are increasingly concerned at the absence of any revealing internal signs that South Africa is preparing to surrender control of the territory.

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This more pessimistic assessment is built on the premise that one of South Africa's gravest concerns over the issue is a conservative backlash and possible realignment of ruling National Party politics that could flow from an independent, and ''radical'' Namibia.

Deliberate steps to ''prepare'' the white electorate in South Africa for a settlement are expected by many to precede a vote for independence. But as Hermann Giliomee, a historian at the University of Stellenbosch, says with some puzzlement: ''There is no shoring up of the home front.'' He adds: ''I don't see any clear strategy emerging.''

South Africa has been waging war against black nationalist forces of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) along the Namibian border and warning against the implications of a black ''radical'' government on its northern border in Namibia. SWAPO is given a good chance of winning an internationally supervised election.

The question is how the South African government will position itself domestically for the possibility of something it has long warned against.

Meanwhile, there are further outward signs of progress in the Namibia negotiations, led by the five Western ''contact group'' nations (the United States, Britain, France, Canada, and West Germany). South Africa appears to have formally accepted the basic guiding constitutional principles for Namibia -- so-called Phase 1 -- and agreed to move on to discussion of transitional issues that would carry the territory to an independence election.

However, some issues raised by SWAPO and the ''frontline'' African states involved in the negotiations are still to be resolved before the first phase is complete.

SWAPO's main concern is believed to be that the proposed election system for a constituent assembly would fragment power among too many parties, to its own detriment. The proposed system calls for half the assembly seats to be won in elections in constituent districts, and the other half through a proportionate allocation, where parties get a block of seats equivalent to their percent of the vote.

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SWAPO and the African states are also concerned about the vague proposal for a second tier, or regional level of government, according to knowledgeable analysts. The fear is that it will take shape along ethnic lines, and perhaps entrench white privilege.

The issue of the linkage of a withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola to the settlement of Namibia has also been raised again. The United States and South Africa clearly would like to see the Cubans, whom they see as a source of Soviet-inspired instability in southern Africa, out of Angola. A top Angolan government official on a visit to Moscow recently was reported to have said his government was prepared to send the Cubans home if South Africa ceases its cross-border incursions.

But a reliable source says SWAPO recently restated its view to the contact group that Cuban withdrawal should not be a precondition for a Namibia settlement.

One step analysts here see as necessary to minimize the domestic political cost to South Africa of going ahead with an election is to discredit the South-West Africa National Party, which is separate from the South African National Party. The SWA Nationalists have vocally opposed the election.

The damage the National Party in South-West Africa could do to the Nationalist government in Pretoria is seen as significant in fomenting unrest among the right wing of the party in South Africa.

Indeed, the leader of South-West Africa's National Party, Kosie Pretorius, set off a storm here recently with a statement in the Afrikaans press that SWAPO would win an election ''hands down.''

Despite this bleak assessment, the internal political coalition, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), seems increasingly eager to get on with an election despite its underdog status

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