Replay of violent decade faces Southern Africa

The Toronto Globe & Mail, Jan. 2, 1980

SALISBURY - Although it enters the 1980s with a major peace agreement,  Southern Africa faces the prospect of a replay of the bloodshed of the  past decade.

Few seasoned observers doubt that post-election Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)  will be a nation torn by armed clashes between political groups seeking  power. It will also be a nation with a massive security problem on its  hands as non-political bandit gangs roam the bush, a law unto  themselves.

Farther south, the 1980s are almost certain to bring increased  violence in white-ruled South Africa as blacks seek for themselves what  their brothers in Zimbabwe have won.

Already the two main South African guerrilla groups, the African  National Congress and the Pan African Council, are developing arms caches  throughout the country.

It is unlikely that South Africa will face a repeat of Rhodesia's  guerrilla war. The army is too powerful and the terrain in the border  regions is not designed for that. Rather, the country probably will see  an increase in urban violence similar to that experienced in U.S. cities  in the late 1960s. The major diffference, however, will be that South  African blacks will have access to sophisticated weapons.

The extent to which that violence will spread and threaten the  Government depends largely on how ready the Cabinet of Prime Minister  Pieter Botha and/or his successor agrees to peaceful change.

Mr. Botha is already proving himself a leader of his people, unlike  Ian Smith who followed rather than led white Rhodesians, and is  exhibiting foresight and a willingness to change within strictly defined  limits - even at the risk of losing substantial popular support.

Whether he and his fellow Afrikaners are prepared to change enough to  satisfy the aspirations of the 19 million blacks is a question which will  determine whether that powerful industrial state becomes a caldron of  violence in the decade to come.

But the biggest threat to peace in Southern Africa in the 1980s  remains the nation which will be born with the 1980s, Zimbabwe.

Even if the forthcoming elections are completed with minimal violence,  the dangers which follow are many. The largest is that the losers might  not accept the result. If they do not, the upheaval which follows could,  in the words of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, make the past seven  years look like a picnic.

In light of the intense bitterness and hatred among whites in general  and the blacks who fought in the Rhodesian Army, it is difficult to  imagine the military turning its weapons over to the guerrillas in the  event of a Patriotic Front victory.

It is equally difficult to picture the bulk of the guerrillas  embracing Bishop Abel Muzorewa as their new leader, should the outgoing  prime minister win.

The factor which could limit the size and length of any potential  civil war if the Patriotic Front loses is the attitude of the five  front-line African states - Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Angola and  Tanzania - which support them.

At least three have announced their firm intention to recognize  whatever government emerges from the elections. If they hold to that, the  Patriotic Front would be hard-pressed to wage a war without rear bases  and ready supply routes from across the border.

All three front-line states bordering Rhodesia - Zambia, Botswana and  Mozambique - desperately need an end to the war. The economies of those  that provide border bases to the guerrillas, Zambia and Mozambique, are  in a shambles as a result of the war.

Their territory is regularly violated by the Rhodesian military and  internal opposition to continued support for the guerrillas is  mounting.

With much of the world, including black African states, preparing to  recognize whatever government is elected here, the new Salisbury regime  will have widespread support and assistance in any new war, thus making  it that much more difficult for Zambia or Mozambique to continue to back  a guerrilla effort even if they wanted to.

Which, at least in the case of Zambia and Botswana, they clearly do  not.

The British settlement provides them with a way to save their  countries and be rid of the Rhodesian nightmare once and for all without  losing face among fellow black African states.

The emergence of Patriotic Front co-leader Joshua Nkomo as a  pre-eminent leader is highly likely. Already a coalition of minority  parties is being put together which would propel him into power. Implied  in this is a final split between Mr. Nkomo and co-leader Robert Mugabe,  whose alliance of convenience was formed under pressure from the  front-line states in 1976.

An armed clash between the followers of the two men could then result,  with Mr. Nkomo teaming up with the existing Rhodesian Army to eliminate  his present ally.

Whether the outcome will be a replay of the devastating Angolan civil  war or whether, somehow, the obstacles will be overcome and Zimbabwe will  finally find peace, hangs like the sword of Damocles over this British  colony as it approaches nationhood.

All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

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