Namibia: What Kind of Independence?

By Campbell, Horace | Monthly Review, September 1989 | Go to article overview

Namibia: What Kind of Independence?


Campbell, Horace, Monthly Review


On April 1, 1989, the United Nations took charge of overseeing Namibia's transition to independence and arranged a ceasefire, but almost immediately elements of PLAN returning to their homeland were ambushed by troops of the SADF.* When the shooting subsided, 270 Namibians lay dead. The dreaded 101 st Battalion of SADF-SWATF was deployed by the UN representatives in Namibia "to maintain law and order." South Africa, which had been looking for a pretense to attack SWAPO ever since its defeat at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, loudly proclaimed through the Western press that SWAPO had violated the agreement and was infiltrating guerrillas into Namibia from bases in Angola.

After one hundred years of political and military struggles, the peoples of Namibia had looked forward to peace on April 1, but were instead met by South African troops all over northern Namibia. It was ironical that these usurpers of Namibian territory and their admirers in the Western media blamed the Namibians for returning to their own homeland. The success with which the South Africans accused SWAPO of violating the cease-fire demonstrated how thoroughly and uncritically the disinformation aspects of their "Total Strategy" had been accepted by the West. But at the same time, the confrontation in northern Namibia stemmed from poor preparation by the United Nations forces and from the January 1989 Security Council decision to reduce by a third the number of UN troops overseeing the withdrawal of the South African military.

The battles along the northern combat zone highlighted the problems that the peoples of Namibia had faced in their long campaign for independence. The beginning of the transition marked a new period, in which the political and organizational skills of the Namibians will be tested by attempts of the South Africans and their allies to win during the transition period what they had lost in battle. For by 1989, it was clear that Namibia would finally be independent. For the South Africans, the question was how to ensure that the independence would not be genuine.

Namibian independence poses a major challenge for the international community, since this will be another major test of credibility of the United Nations. The African peoples still remember the first UN decolonization fiasco in the Congo in 1960. then the impotence of the UN in the face of the murder of Patrice Lumumba culminated in the death of a UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. But by 1989 Africa had more experience and maturity in international politics, and the successful decolonization of Rhodesia in 1980 stood as a positive lesson of how Africans could organize to thwart the efforts of South Africa to prevent real independence.

The lessons of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Congo (now Zaire) are relevant in the present conjuncture, as the very process that the Namibians embark upon can help to determine what kind of independence they will have. But in the final analysis, the de facto integration of Namibia into the economy of South Africa ensures that social emancipation in Namibia is bound up with popular democratic struggles in South Africa itself. These struggles are, in fact, tied into the questions of demilitarization, de-alignment, and democracy in Africa as a whole.

The 1988 Agreement: A Historic Turning Point

From the outset it must be said that despite the limited ability of the United Nations to carry out its mandate, the period of the transition to independence in Namibia marked a historic moment in Africa in general and in southern Africa in particular. The vast territory of Namibia in the sou th-western part of the continent has been the scene of a bitter struggle between Europe and Africa, therefore between capital and labor, since 1878, when Britain annexed Walvis Bay, and 1884, when Namibia was declared a protectorate by imperial Germany. This territory of over 800,000 square kilometers has fewer than 2 million persons, in part because of the genocide and devastation carried out by the German imperialists between 1884 and 1917. …

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