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S. Africa, Zambia end isolation and start black-white talks

Talks between South Africa and Zambia set for April 30 are expected to produce more symbolism than substance.

But the mere opening of a top-level dialogue between a black African ''frontline'' state and the white minority government of South Africa - the first since 1975 - is seen as potentially important to southern Africa, analysts here say.

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For South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha the meeting at the South African-Botswana border offers a welcome opportunity to step into the role of statesman amid mounting domestic political problems. A pending plan for ''power sharing'' with ''nonwhites'' has created a right-wing backlash against Mr. Botha's government.

Besides boosting his standing at home, Mr. Botha's meeting with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda may provide South Africa a chance to demonstrate that it seeks to play a constructive role in the subcontinent, contrary to repeated charges by neighboring black states that it is a source of deliberate instability.

''South Africa clearly desires to get away from the image that it is trying to destabilize its neighbors,'' John Barratt of the South African Institute of International Affairs says.

Analysts say such a display would be particularly welcomed by the United States as a sign that its ''constructive engagement'' policy toward Pretoria is paying dividends.

For President Kaunda, who initiated the talks, the exercise could reassert a leadership role in southern Africa--a role analysts agree has slipped in recent years. Diplomatic sources in Lusaka say Mr. Kaunda is sincere in wanting the meeting to address what he described as ''potentially explosive'' developments in southern Africa.

The most ''explosive'' development at the moment may be the border war in Namibia (South-West Africa). President Kaunda could be looking to play a more active role in that issue. Indeed, President Kaunda recently met with Sam Nujoma , leader of SWAPO (the South-West Africa People's Organization)--the black nationalist group fighting South Africa for Namibian independence. SWAPO maintains some bases in Zambia, and that government has accused South Africa of cross-border incursions.

''Zambia is deeply concerned with the instability in Namibia and Angola, and they see the situation worsening,'' says Richard Cornwell of the Africa Institute. Recently back from a trip to Zambia, Mr. Cornwell says the Zambian economy is on a downward spiral due to low copper prices.

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The nation's economic woes are worsened by Angolan refugees displaced by on-going fighting between the Angolan government and Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA is backed by the South Africans.

From Zambia's point of view, South Africa directly influences the situation in Angola by its alleged support of UNITA and its military excursions after SWAPO troops.

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