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Independence for Namibia?

The history of UN Security Council Resolution 435 shows why the prospects may be bleak

RECENT news reports have tended to give the impression that Namibia's 1.3 million blacks are on a straightforward march toward independence from South African occupation. Thus, when independence fighters of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) broke an alleged promise by entering Namibia on April 1, it naturally seemed like a critical threat to the ``transition.'' However, the background and content of United Nations Security Council Resolution 435, which is the backbone of the process, show that both of these impressions are misleading.

Namibia, or colonial ``South West Africa,'' was occupied by Germany in the 1880s. Since South Africa took over the territory during World War I, Namibians have suffered enormously under white minority rule. As in South Africa, Nazi-like racial registration and segregation, forced removals of black communities to resource-poor areas, inferior education, and ruinous taxes have forced blacks in Namibia to serve whites as ``hewers of wood and drawers of water.''

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The country's economy is dominated by mineral exports controlled by a small group of multinational firms. For example, Consolidated Diamond Mines, a subsidiary of the South-African-based giant DeBeers/Anglo-American, owns virtually all of the rich diamond fields.

Most mine workers are contract laborers recruited through hand-picked ``tribal leaders.'' On the other hand, many farm workers live with their families on vast karakul (Persian lamb) ranches owned by whites, mostly South African settlers.

Under pressure from its African members, the UN General Assembly finally responded to repression and exploitation in Namibia by voting to end South Africa's ``mandate'' in 1966. In 1969, the UN Security Council - whose permanent members include the United States, Britain, and France - affirmed this. After further international condemnation of South Africa's presence in Namibia, the Security Council in 1975 adopted Resolution 385, which called for the immediate and total withdrawal of South Africa from Namibia and then direct UN supervision of elections for a constitutional assembly. Sanctions were implied if South Africa refused.

The early 1970s, however, saw Western investment and military aid continuing to pour into South Africa. A consortium of US, British, West German, French, and Canadian companies invested heavily in the giant uranium mine at R"ossing, Namibia.

South Africa had no problem reading between the lines of UN Security Council resolutions and assuming that a continuation of its intransigent stance would meet with no resistance. Indeed, when South Africa stayed in Namibia, the US, Great Britain, and France vetoed stronger sanctions in the Security Council.

These three countries then joined West Germany and Canada in a ``Contact Group'' for the purpose of independent negotiations with South Africa. The goal was to devise a plan for Namibia they all could accept, and their hope was that they could get the rest of the world to accept it, too. The result was UN Security Council Resolution 435, adopted in 1978 to replace 385 as the international framework for Namibian independence.

HOWEVER, the US did not agree to the implementation of 435 until early 1989. In December 1988, South Africa, Angola, and Cuba signed the US-brokered Brazzaville Accord. This accord, which followed 13 years of devastating warfare in newly independent Angola, enshrined the US-South African policy of ``linkage'' between South African withdrawal from Namibia and Cuban withdrawal from Angola.

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Of course, most Cuban troops were invited to Angola after it was invaded by South Africa in 1975, and most Namibians would never accept the linkage policy. But these facts played a subordinate role to the interests of the US and South African governments.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law in Washington, D.C., recently analyzed how 435 reflects these interests. Unlike 385, 435 does not require immediate South African military withdrawal, but only in stages in conjunction with Cuban withdrawal from Angola. Namibia's whites-only administration and South African-controlled police force stay in place, and the fate of ``security'' forces which did not exist in 1978, like the South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF) and the brutal ``Koevoet'' (``Crowbar,'' or counterinsurgency unit), is not addressed. Details are lacking on the form of the constitutional convention, whether or not the resulting document is to be ratified, and how the new government is to be formed. The future of Walvis Bay, Namibia's only deep-water port, is not spelled out. South Africa continues to claim it as its own territory.

Since the fox was left in charge of the chicken coop, the US was only giving the coup de gr^ace to the independence process when it helped pressure the UN Security Council into reducing the UN monitoring force from the originally planned 7,500 to 4,650. In any case, the UN Special Representative in Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari, has only vaguely defined powers to respond to threats to the process.

The result? Besides the inability of the UN force to deal with the crossing of the Angola-Namibian border by SWAPO fighters on April 1 - the first day of implementation of 435 - numerous South African abuses have been reported by the Namibian Council of Churches and other sources.

Recruitment of blacks into the SWATF is continuing. The Koevoet has been incorporated into the police force rather than being disbanded as South Africa promised. Right-wing white groups and individual whites are arming themselves, and arms are being cached (obviously to destabilize a SWAPO-led government). Military units, as well as the South-African-controlled radio and television networks, are spreading anti-SWAPO propaganda. SWAPO supporters have been beaten and shot. Members of UNITA, the South African- and CIA-aided anti-government movement in Angola, are being brought across the border and given Namibian citizenship so that they can vote against SWAPO.

South Africa wanted to raise the voting age to 21, and permit anyone who has been in Namibia for over a year to vote; the former would disenfranchise many SWAPO supporters including fighters, while the latter would enable many South African soldiers to vote. Finally, South Africa might withdraw its troops to Walvis Bay. The port is the only major outlet for Namibian exports other than a railway which exits through South Africa.

CLEARLY, South Africa and its Western allies have used 435 to set the stage for the continued political and economic domination of Namibia. This domination is part of South Africa's ``total strategy'' of military and economic destabilization of its neighbors, a strategy which they have in part modeled on US domination of Latin America.

In order to contribute to the survival, liberty, and prosperity of the people of southern Africa, the US must end its hypocritical posturing against the apartheid regime, which the UN has rightly declared to be a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace. Twenty-five years of stonewalling of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa must end. The voices of those under occupation in Namibia, under martial law in South Africa, and under attack by South Africa's barbarous surrogates in Mozambique, cry out for no less.

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