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The battle for southern Africa

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SOUTH AFRICA's invasion of Angola defies common sense and affronts both the United Nations and the United States. But it serves the national and regional geopolitical objectives of a minority-ruled state increasingly influenced by the thinking of generals. Inside South Africa, white politicians and security officials follow a two-track policy. They are attempting to defuse black protest by dangling morsels of social and political reform and by a reactive, all-out attempt at repression.

The iron fist arrests, detains, censors. The velvet glove extends the possibility of talks between whites and blacks, frees aged nationalists, and creates forums for cooperation and co-optation.

Outside South Africa there are also two tracks, but the military one is decisive. South Africa's Foreign Ministry officials preach conciliation and stability and transport authorities help reconstruct Mozambique's main port. But Pretoria's military strategists support potent proxy armies in both Mozambique and Angola, and may even assist the remaining insurgents in Zimbabwe.

A stable, developing southern African region makes sense to Americans. White South Africans surely want a peaceful, contented neighborhood, one focused more on growth than discord. Such countries would purchase goods from South Africa and use its rail lines and ports.

Such a situation fits well with the ideas of many white South African politicians and officials, even some closely linked with the ruling National Party of President P.W. Botha. But South Africa's military men have more-Draconian priorities. Since one of their own sits in Mr. Botha's inner Cabinet, and since the State Security Council is directed by a senior military officer, the ideas of military men receive a full hearing.

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