P.W Botha and negotiations for independence
P.W. BOTHA’S main aim had been to divide Angola into two parts: northern and eastern: and south and eastern Angola under the control of the puppet Jonas Savimbi, with the clear purpose of preventing SWAPO from entering Namibia. This attempt had resulted only in disaster for the minority white South African politicians and army generals. The Angolans, Cubans and SWAPO had defeated the South Africans and their surrogate UNITA. The Reagan Administration’s long-drawn-out attempt to score a Cold War victory by removing Cuban internationalist forces from Angola and securing a puppet regime in Namibia had failed. After the South African military defeat, they had to realize that there would never be a compliant SWAPO taking part in a puppet interim government. At last they had to accept the full implementation of Resolution 435. The Cuban withdrawal would now follow after the South African’s military defeat.
At the end of April 1988, negotiations to end the war in Angola were announced and Angola, Cuba and South Africa had their first meeting in London on 3-4 May, under American chairmanship. I first heard about South Africa’s preparedness at last to negotiate in Moscow during my visit at the end of April and beginning of May.
I had talks with President of the Soviet Union Andrei Gromyko, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Anatoly Dobrynin, and Senior Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Anatoly Admishin.
This was the time of the first summit meeting between President Reagan and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev. Our confidence in a successful outcome to the process, which had begun in London, was increased by the agreement between these two Cold War leaders on 29 September 1988 (the 10th anniversary of the passing of Resolution 435), and the deadline for resolving the situation in Angola and Namibia. It did not matter that the date was an over-optimistic one. What encouraged us was the knowledge that South Africa could no longer continue playing delaying tactics with such a commitment from the Reagan Administration.
I flew from Moscow to Atlanta, Georgia in the USA when the London talks were announced. I was kept in close touch with developments there by our long-serving United Kingdom SWAPO Chief Representative, Shapua Kaukungua, who was also Chief Representative for Western Europe. The Cubans gave us detailed briefings on all meetings from then on.
Interviewed in New York on 8 May 1988, I gave The Namibian newspaper in Windhoek my views on this vital new development.
About our non-participation in those talks, I said: “As far as SWAPO is concerned, the only role we were interested in playing is to sign the cease-fire with South Africa and start the implementation of Resolution 435. As far as Namibia is concerned a formula is already agreed upon. It is up to the other parties to resolve all the other hurdles in order for us to proceed. The negotiation process is on, but the first phases of the negotiating process have nothing to do with us. We will be around when the time comes for the signing of the cease-fire and the implementation of Resolution 435.”
In Atlanta I talked with the former US President, Jimmy Carter, who had long been very supportive of the cause of Namibia’s freedom and independence. He promised that if a Democrat Administration took over from Ronald Reagan after the presidential election of November 1988, he would seek to get Namibian independence based on Resolution 435 accepted as part of US foreign policy. He and the Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, with whom we had worked in the Western Contact Group days, agreed to raise the question at the Democratic Convention in July 1988. Had there been such men in power throughout the 1980s, further war and suffering might well have been avoided.
With Theo-Ben Gurirab and Hidipo Hamutenya I travelled on to California, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland and Chicago. Everywhere I talked with state and city representatives and newspaper editors. We did all we could, as we had in Atlanta, to get the US media to give proper attention to our case, to counter the version of events the South Africans had put across through their huge international propaganda offensive.
In Washington on 4 May 1988, I made a point of announcing the policy of national reconciliation, neutrality and non-alignment, which the SWAPO Central Committee had adopted. ‘National reconciliation’ was not a policy designed merely to win votes in the elections, or to buy Western support in the implementation process.
On 4 May we had no certainty that South Africa was this time negotiating seriously and not, as on so many previous occasions, simply buying time. I nevertheless emphasized that, in our future non-racial democracy, even ‘traitors’ who fought on the side of the South African forces of occupation would be equally treated as citizens.
4 May 1988 was also the 10th anniversary of the Cassinga massacre, which P.W. Botha’s regime had claimed as a great victory that had “broken SWAPO’s backbone” from which PLAN would never recover.
They celebrated with a big military parade in Oshakati. But they were countered by students in marking what we called ‘Cassinga Day’: thousands of students held a demonstration in Katutura in protest against the South African military parade, and then marched to the Augustineum College. When some of them headed for the centre of Windhoek they were attacked by police with rubber bullets and tear-gas. Police in their Casspirs and military vehicles chased the peaceful young demonstrators, many of them schoolchildren, through the streets. That day reflected the situation of the moment. It could be no surprise to anyone that we did not trust the South Africans to negotiate in good faith.
My main engagement in Washington, D.C. was to be present as the principal witness and participant in hearings on Namibia held by the World Council of Churches. The former Nigerian head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, took the chair and among the other distinguished members were Mrs Palme, widow of the late Swedish Prime Minister who had stood by all oppressed peoples from the 1960s onwards. Many leading churchmen were also present, including Bishop Kauluma and Vice-Bishop Kameeta from Namibia. It was at this hearing that I announced SWAPO’s national reconciliation policy.
At the State Department I talked with officials, headed by Mr Sam Armacost, Under Secretary of State, to whom Chester Crocker was responsible. He spoke about the US-Soviet discussions on regional problems, in which he said, “There appears to have been progress on Angola-Namibia related issues.” We talked also with the campaign office of Governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic front-runner for the forthcoming presidential election, and directly with an old friend of SWAPO, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Our final meeting was with the UN Council for Namibia in New York. I thanked them for all they had done as the de jure government of Namibia, especially in these final years of the struggle. I said that we considered them a “fighting Council for Namibia” and our partners in the long campaign for Namibia’s independence. I also urged them to emphasize their legal authority over Namibia at this crucial time and to increase their activities at international level.
The Council for Namibia, with which the office of the UN Commissioner had recently been merged, had indeed done much but they were not supported by the Western powers – the United Kingdom did not even recognize their authority.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martti Ahtisaari, who was much less favourably disposed towards SWAPO, was seen by the Western powers as the man to handle the implementation of Resolution 435, leaving the Council with virtually no role in the implementation.