Fostering alliances and highlighting common interests with Western powers was a long-standing strategy of the Pretoria regime as a means to obtain legitimacy via-a-vis the demands by the Black majority population for the dismantlement of the apartheid system. The South African apartheid regime sought to draw the Western countries into defending the status quo in Southern Africa and by implication, underwrite the apartheid regime.
Although apartheid South Africa had been the responsible authority in Namibia since 1920 as a consequence of mandate and trusteeship systems of the League of Nations and the United Nations respectively, Pretoria continued to occupy the territory illegally following the termination of the mandate by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the judicial arm of the United Nations – supported the position of the Assembly in an Advisory Opinion on 21 June 1971in which it confirmed that South Africa’s continued occupation of Namibia was illegal.
From 1966 then, the United Nations became the de jure authority in the territoryand therefore had the historical, moral and legal responsibility to end South Africa’s illegal occupation of the territory.
In its refusal to honour its obligation to grant Namibia independence in terms of the trusteeship system, Pretoria could fortunately count on the support of the Western powers, at the head of which was the United States of America (US), bent on protecting their colonial interests in the cold war power struggle with the socialist bloc, led by the Soviet Union.
As pressure from the majority of the membership of the UN mounted for South Africa to grant Namibia its independence, and as the impact of SWAPO’s armed liberation struggle inside Namibia grew, the Western powers devised a plan to ‘manage’ and ‘deflect’ the pressure.
The primary objective of these coutries for wanting to ‘resolve’ the question of Namibia was to protect their political, economic and strategic interests not only in Namibia, but also in the southern African region as a whole, in the context of the East-West conflict and super power rivalry.
Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (US) established the ‘Contact Group’ on Namibia in 1977, ostensibly to find ways to implement Security Council Resolution 385 of 30 January 1976, which had declared that it was imperative that free elections under the supervision and control of the United Nations be held in Namibia to enable the people of the territory freely to determine their own future.
All five countries were members of the Security Council at the time. France, the UK and the US as permanent members while the other two held rotating non-permanent seats.
The Contact Group countries had varying degrees of political, economic and strategic interests in Namibia. Germany, the former settler colonial power had also special ‘kith and kin’ considerations in the Territory – protection of the interests of the ‘settler’ German-speaking population.
The United Nations General Assembly recognised the ‘implications’ of ‘the policies of [foreign] financial interests operating’ in Namibia. Practically every year, the Assembly adopted resolutions which condemned the activities of these foreign financial interests, and which did not only ‘mercilessly exploit the human and material resources’ of Namibia, but also more importantly, ‘impeded the progress of the Territory and the right of the people to freedom and independence’ – see for example A/RES/2074 (XX) of 17 December 1965.
For a considerable period of time, the South African regime found some comfort in the support of the Western countries, based on their own strategic interests, in Pretoria’s determination to perpetuate the policy of apartheid.
Cleophas Tsokodayi is the author of Namibia’s Independence Struggle