1. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rogers1

No. 81


  • South West Africa: Shrunken Autonomy

During its current session in Cape Town, the South African Parliament probably will enact legislation to bring South West Africa under closer administrative control. Although a UN resolution in 19662 declared that South Africa had forfeited the League of Nations Mandate over South West Africa, the Republic remains in de facto control of the territory. A South African law passed in 1968 and a bill pending in the 1969 Parliament drastically curtail South West Africa’s autonomy and reduce it to the status of another province of South Africa.

The Homelands Act. The 1968 law specified 12 ethnic groups in South West Africa that are to be assigned to separate “homelands.” Six such homelands already set apart on paper will lack sufficient population or resources to become viable states. The tribal groups immediately affected are: the Ovambo, 270,000; the Damara, 50,000; the Herero, 40,000; the Okavango, 30,000; the East Caprivians, 17,000; and the Kaokovelders, 10,000 (see map).3 Even before this formal introduction of apartheid, South African authorities had begun shifting the black population around into ethnic compartments and purchasing white farm land at a much faster rate than was taking place inside the Republic for a similar Bantustan program.

Chiefs and Councils. On the road to “self-rule” these six tribes will have legislative councils, consisting mainly of tribal chiefs subsidized [Page 2] by the South African Government. The homelands will resemble the Transkei, the Republic’s first and still its only functioning Bantustan. Ovamboland, perhaps the nearest of all tribal areas in South West Africa to viability, took the first step towards homeland status in October 1968, when its legislative council was established.

The South West Africa Affairs Bill. While purporting to follow the spirit of the Mandate, the bill now under consideration provides for Pretoria’s wholesale takeover of South West Africa’s administrative machinery, hitherto operated with some degree of autonomy. The list of bureau functions transferred is long and impressive: services dealing with labor, African education, interior, prisons, commerce, industries, justice, colored affairs, mines, public works, posts and telegraphs, transport, social welfare, water affairs, and agriculture. The bill also makes any and all South African laws applicable to South West Africa.

Local Reactions: Whites. Most whites in South West Africa accept apartheid and go along with the 1962 Odendaal Plan, which provided the guidelines for Pretoria’s incorporation of the territory. The South Africans have reassured them that taxes will not be raised in South West Africa and that the German language will retain its special status. Another concession was to abolish a split tariff that had increased the price of goods imported into South West Africa from South Africa. Little opposition will come from white political leaders since a wing of South Africa’s ruling National Party controls all the South West African seats in South Africa’s Parliament as well as all the seats in South West’s Provincial Council. Even those whites in South West noted for their independent streak resigned themselves long ago to being ruled from Pretoria, because they are not about to allow themselves to be governed by any UN committee, let alone some future combination of local non-whites.

Local Reactions: Africans. For black South West Africans the proposed new administrative arrangements probably will not mean much of a change in their daily lives. Neither in this case nor in that of the Homelands Act—which has affected where and how individuals live—has there been much chance for Africans to react without getting into serious trouble. Theoretically, the introduction of legislative councils will provide greater opportunities for political expression and self-government, but it is doubtful that this will be true in practice. The chiefs will be the dominant figures in the new councils, and they will tend to do what the authorities tell them to do. Furthermore, since non-white political movements have been effectively suppressed in South West Africa, it is hard to see politics freely developing in the homelands. South West African exile groups and African members of the UN will presumably protest the current measures, which under[Page 3]score South Africa’s continuing defiance of the UN General Assembly’s resolutions on South West Africa.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–2 S AFR. Confidential.
  2. Resolution 2145, adopted by the General Assembly on October 27, 1966. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1966, pp. 605–606)
  3. Not attached.