Dr Verwoerd's High Stakes
From STANLEY UYS
rrtit: British government, surely, does not be- I lieve that it can persuade Dr Verwoerd to curtail the supplies of petrol South Africa is sending to Rhodesia? If it does, then it has not yet taken the measure of this determined man. An examination of Dr Verwoerd's statements since UDI shows that he has been entirely con- sistent in a cunning sort of way: while pro- claiming official 'non-involvement,' he has given the go-ahead to private traders, organisations and individuals. And on that policy he stands.
For anyone who wants to consult the record, it is all spelt out in Dr Verwoerd's parliamentary statement of January 25. He said then :
I now come to the question of petrol and
oil supplies for Rhodesia. Here we continue to follow the fundamental principle we have laid down, namely, that we could not in any
way or form participate in boycotts or sanc-
tions. If there are producers or traders who have oil or petrol to sell, whether to this country or the Portuguese or Basutoland or Rhodesia or Zambia, then it is their business.
and we do not interfere. We do not prevent
them from selling. If we were to try to prevent
them, we would be participating in a boycott.
Dr Verwoerd made the point plain: it was not for his government to interfere with the dispatch of 'gifts' to Rhodesia—'no matter what kind of gifts they might be whether sugar or butter or petrol or oil.' To do so would be to participate in the boycott—'and we are not pre- pared to apply a boycott.' That was on January 25. On April 4, in a post-general election broad- cast, Dr Verwoerd repeated that South Africa did not take part in 'any measures directed by one state or group of states against any other, such as boycotts or sanctions.' Between January 25 and April 4, he made other pronounce= ments: he said that 'normal trade' for South Africa included not only normal trade, but also the provision of items, like petrol, which South Africa had never previously exported to Rho- desia, and any additional trade that might arise as a result of South African firms competing for new Rhodesian customers; further, he ad- vised captains of South African ships not to disclose their cargoes if intercepted.
The statement on January 25 disproved the assumption (optimistically entertained in certain diplomatic circles) that `non-involvement' meant 'non-involvement': it meant, in fact, that while Dr Verwoerd's government was officially neutral towards UDI, the rest of South Africa could pitch in, boots and all. The statement on March 4 disproved the further assumption that Dr Ver- woerd's January 25 statement had been made under election pressure and that after the general election on March 30 he would come to heel.
The position at the moment is that Dr Ver- woerd is fully determined to continue to allow South Africa to assist Rhodesia as much as possible, and he has served notice on the United Nations not to try to divert him from this course. One must accept that Dr Verwoerd knows what he is doing: that having drawn the basic dis- tinction between 'official' and 'unofficial' in- volvement when Rhodesia "first declared itself independent, he was prepared for escalation. He must have anticipated that, after the British general election, Mr Wilson would give priority to the Rhodesian question and that this would
involve consideration of South Africa's role. He must have been prepared therefore for his ambassador in London, Dr Carel de Wet, to be summoned by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Michael Stewart, as indeed he has been now. He must also have had his answer ready, which was (one guesses): I refer you to the various statements I have made between- UDI and March 4—there is nothing really to add.
Dr Verwoerd's inflexibility is distressing for Britain, because it means that if Mr Wilson wants to stop South African supplies of oil reaching Rhodesia he must take on a second and much more powerful opponent before he eliminates the first. Mr Wilson is obviously reluctant to ask the United Nations for general mandatory sanctions, since this would involve him in sur- rendering some of the initiative Britain holds over the Rhodesian situation to the UN, and it might start an escalation which would wind up with Britain being forced to apply sanctions to a defaulting South Africa. An application to the UN for general mandatory sanctions makes sense only if Britain is willing to take the next logical step, which is to participate fully in sanctions against any defaulting members (or ex-members —Dr Verwoerd might withdraw South Africa's membership of the UN if sanctions were made obligatory on all members).
Mr Wilson's tactic, therefore, appears to be to handle Dr Verwoerd with kid gloves, and at the time of writing he has asked only for UN support to enforce an oil blockade of Beira. He has, however, warned against two other possibilities: Portugal has been told that
if oil gets through to Rhodesia from Beira, it might become necessary to use force against the Smith regime—this is calculated to cause the Portuguese maximum anxiety, since in Angola and Mozambique they have insurrec- tionist movements on their hands; while South Africa, according to reports, has been advised that if it does not play the game its enemies at the UN might seek to make it the target of oil sanctions itself—a warning calculated to cause maximum anxiety to Dr Verwoerd. If he ignores this threat, it is because he has assessed its value and rejected it. Also—and this is crucial - —he is playing for high stakes. If he allows the Smith regime to go down the drain, he allows South Africa's enemies to establish the point that sanctions can work. He sacrifices further a valuable buffer state between South Africa and independent Africa. If. on the other hand, he manages to salvage the Smith regime, he dis- proves (possibly once and for all) the effective- ness of sanctions, he maintains the buffer state, and he is even free to proceed with his concept of a white-ruled federation of Southern Africa, linking South Africa, Rhodesia and the two Por- tuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.
The conclusion to be drawn from Dr Ver- wocrd's behaviour is that much more is going on behind the scenes between South Africa, Rho- desia and Portugal than meets the eye. It is absurd to expect that South Africa and Portugal can take a detached view of Rhodesia's plight— officially, yes; but in private, definitely not. If necessary, therefore, Dr Verwoerd will engage in a confrontation with both Britain and the UN. It is even just possible that he would wel- come such a confrontation with his international opponents, either immediately over Rhodesia or later this year over South-West Africa, so that he can attempt to prove, once and for all, that South Africa is invulnerable to pressure. The risks are high, but so are the stakes.
'—what's more, folks, I'm playing the whole of this tricky little number by ear!'