18 JANUARY 1975, Page 11

Spectator International (4)

As Vorster abandons Smith...

Roy Macnab

The first ever visit to South Africa of a British Foreign Secretary, in the opening days of 1975, may in future years be remembered not as an important event in itself, which it was not, but as something that happened when a new era opened on the African continent as the final quarter of the twentieth century began. Gazing into crystal balls is a familiar January occupation, in South Africa as elsewhere, but this time there is something different about it. South Africa is in a curious mood, at once confident and expectant, a mood which has nothing to do with the sun, sea and sand euphoria of a country in the midst of its summer holidays. Mr Vorster emerged from his beach cottage to meet Mr Callaghan in a splendid holiday hotel and it all seemed very unreal. Yet for a British Foreign Secretary with the historic task of trying to put the last of Europe's African colonialism peacefully to sleep, the meeting Place was highly appropriate, for it was on the very beaches in front of his hotel on Algoa Bay that the first British immigrants waded ashore through the surf 155 years ago, some of their becoming like the Moodies of Melsetter oecoming the first of Rhodesia's settler families in the 1890s. Mr Vorster, however, is a descendant of Boers not British immigrants, and Afrikaner nationalism which he represents has as little sympathy for colonialism as has Yrican nationalism and this helps to account for South African attitudes towards Portuguese 9rid Rhodesian affairs. Last Sunday's editorial In the Nationalist Party newspaper, Rapport, Which stated that "we find Mr Smith's ProPosition that there will not be majority rule in his lifetime strange. In this way the path is Prepared for bloody confrontation" is a further indication of the gulf between South Africa and Rhodesia. The Afrikaner sees himself as a man of Africa and the fact that Black Africa seems now to View the South African question differently from the former Portuguese and present Kohdesian situation seems to indicate a Iecognition of the nature of the Afrikaners. rhat they are no longer holed up in their Psychological laager, nor even within their t,,erritorial borders, but making diplomatic torays into the most unlikely corners of the continent is possibly the main reason for their Present mood of excited expectation that at last "'flings are going to be different. It may all have .ng°,n.e to the head a little, all this talk between Whites and blacks on equal terms and neither eti

int g always in the predictable racial way. But .oxication has its dangers and the soberminded warn that there may be many a goyer in Salisbury or Lusaka, in Windhoek

or Pretoria the a we reach the millenium and Attic 'aintY beyond a doubt that southern middaiewill provide no new Vietnam, no new dOent .East, the "ghastly alternative" to e In Mr Vorster's words.

Optimism remains, however, and with good reason for new and unusual factors combine to make this exactly the right moment for north and south, black and white, to seek an accommodation. The Lisbon revolution was the catalyst; only Rhodesia and South West Africa

(Namibia) remained as colonial problems, in theory at least since de facto the former had

become an independent though unrecognised republic and the latter remained under Pretoria's administration in defiance of the United Nations. South Africa, having established first correct, then co-operative relations with Mozambique, was galvanised into action after years of stalemate, to get the colonial problems finally disposed of. This done, it would be possible to concentrate on securing her own future as an African country. There followed a great flurry of secret diplomatic contact, even at top level, all over the continent. That was one reality: behind the scenes. The other, on the open stage of the UN, showed South Africa being further humiliated by Black Africa. Then Mr Vorster made three or four speeches that were mysteriously, perhaps purposely vague and with memorable phrases like "you will be surprised where we stand in Africa, in six months' time." President Kaunda of Zambia talked about Vorster's "voice of reason that Africa has been waiting for." Then came the Lusaka meeting bringing together not only three African heads of state but representatives of the Rhodesian government and black nationalist leaders, lately in detention; also the permanent head of South Africa's diplomatic service. Something quite new was happening. For the first time all the initiatives towards achieving peaceful solutions between the black north and the white south had been taken by the people, black and white, who belonged to Africa. It was no longer London or Lisbon, Paris or even Washington, which was pulling the strings as in the past, sometimes with wider motives than the purely local.

Here is the first reason for optimism, that it is the people who will have to live with the solutions who are leading the search for them. Now Mr Callaghan is much too shrewd not to appreciate how delicate a situation this is and how outside intervention of the wrong kind could be disastrous, The Afrikaans press has described his role as an eierdans, an egg dance. He will certainly have been told in South Africa that Britain's interest will not be served by calling a constitutional conference in London in the grand manner of the Imperial past but rather by giving its blessing to a solution worked out in Africa by the people most directly concerned.

South Africans are probably being more optimistic about Rhodesia than is at present justified, but having launched themselves into intense diplomatic activity on the continent, there will be no going back. Nor will they wish to, now they have become aware of what a powerful part they could play in the development of sub-Saharan Africa if they were allowed to. Their tremendous economic and financial power, their advanced technology, more immediately their food supplies at a time when Africa is more and more menaced with starvation (supplies of grain are already going to Mozambique) make it the obvious country to lead the development of the continent as a whole. And this at a time when the countries of Western Europe, including Britain, wounded economically by the oil problem, are less able to help Africa's developing countries.

Hence Black Africa's interest in détente. They know what advantages could accrue to themselves if political changes down south made it possible for the South African industrial giant to play a continental role. For South Africa, it is not, curiously enough, just a question of trying crudely to buy off African hostility; there is a real though frustrated idealism seeking to express itself internationally and a realisation at last that this cannot take place until it is first expressed locally in South Africa itself. Friendly figures such as Senghor of Senegal and Houphuet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast have suggested to them kindly that dialogue, like charity, begins at home. And here, of course, is the 64,000 dollar question, the paradox which seems to mystify many European and American observers. Does South Africa imagine, they ask, that if it urges majority rule in Rhodesia and a new dispensation in South-West Africa, with consequent sacrifices and adjustments by the whites in those territories, that it will feel free to carry on at home as if nothing had happened?

Direct questions to South African ministers about the future of apartheid get dusty answers, which is only to be expected. Political parties never announce the abandonment of policies, only their extension. Anything that may look new or different or contrary in South Africa in the new era will be announced as an extension of• the policy of separate development, which, never having been clearly defined, will stand on its head or turn inside out as convenient. The Foreign Minister, Dr Muller, in an end-of-year broadcast said: "We shall not hesitate on our side to do away with humiliating measures and practices which harm good relations between White and non-White and which have nothing to do with maintenance of our own identity and sovereignty." An honest admission that there is room for improvement. The point is that the whole question of détente in Africa is inseparable from the movement for change in South Africa itself. As a black editor in Johannesburg has already commented, if South Africa was going to have a ball with Black Africa then they were not going to play the role of Cinderella. Nor are they. It is not widely appreciated to what extent during the past year or two the running between the south and the north, to Nairobi as to Abidjan, has been made by black South Africans, business and professional men going about their own, not government, business.

Meanwhile Mr Vorster knows that if he can pull off a spectacular peace coup in Africa, ending violent confrontations on the Zambesi, launching a new era of constructive economic development through the continent, he will be in a very strong position to get his electorate at home to accept the changes that a harmonious future in Africa demands. Mr Vorster's favour ite statesman is General de Gaulle, a man who

used autocratic powers to lanser l'abces d'Algerie; it is a way of ensuring that change

occurs under firm control, reducing liberty in order to drive through to a liberal solution. Gazing into his crystal ball, Mr Vorster may see his role in 1975, perhaps his place in history, in bringing about a completely decolonised Africa, but he will see there too a future in which there can be no subservient peoples in his own country either.

Roy Macnab is a South African author and former diplomat