75. Intelligence Note Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1



A series of contacts between the South African Government and UN Secretary-General Waldheim have produced perceptible movement in Pretoria’s declared policy on South-West Africa (Namibia). But there are also major ambiguities, and serious doubts that South Africa’s new stance will be acceptable to the African group in the UN. This [Page 183] makes uncertain at best the continuation of Waldheim’s talks with Pretoria; renewal of his mandate would depend largely on whether the Africans could be persuaded that the South African position at least provides a basis for further talks.

The Waldheim Mandate. Last year the Security Council authorized Waldheim to explore the South African position on Namibia, with a view to bringing it into conformity with the UN position or laying the groundwork for future UN action. Waldheim and his special representative, Alfred Escher, made separate visits to Namibia in 1972. Although the African group was critical of Escher’s report on his contacts with Pretoria, it agreed to extend Waldheim’s mandate until April 30.

Signs of Change. During April Waldheim met with South African Foreign Minister Muller in Geneva. Waldheim’s report on these talks, released May 1, suggests that there has been a real, although modest, advance over Pretoria’s earlier policies.2 For example, the South Africans now state that:

“. . . desiring to enable the population of South-West Africa to exercise their right to self-determination and independence . . . [they] will fully respect the wishes of the whole population of the territory. . . . South Africa will not impose upon the population of South-West Africa any given system contrary to the wishes of the latter or . . . the Charter of the United Nations.”

The reference to “the whole population” of the territory, and other undertakings with regard to freedom of speech, travel, and political activity by the inhabitants, are surprising gains over previous South African policies.

The Other Side of the Coin. At the same time, the Waldheim-Muller exchanges have made Pretoria’s real intentions highly uncertain, since the assurances given to Waldheim are not compatible with other South African statements and actions. The new South African position, for example, sets no timetable beyond the vague statement that “. . . it might not take longer than ten years for the population . . . to reach the stage where it will be ready to exercise its right to self-determination.” Furthermore, the South African Government has introduced legislation in Parliament which would further develop the system of “homelands” for separate tribal groupings in Namibia and has issued proclamations conferring self-government on two such areas this month. It has also set up a government-dominated Advisory Council for the territory.

African Reactions and Their Implications for the US. However forthcoming the South Africans have been in their own terms, African gove[Page 184]rnments are unlikely to find Pretoria’s position satisfactory. The Africans will want to postpone UN consideration of Waldheim’s report, however, until their foreign ministers and heads of state have had an opportunity to pronounce on it at the forthcoming OAU Summit in Addis Ababa (May 17–28). Thereafter, they will probably press for a Security Council meeting in June, at which they are expected to oppose continuation of the Secretary General’s mandate. Instead, the African group may seek international sanctions against South Africa for defying the UN on the Namibia issue. For the US, the immediate problem is whether there are any possibilities for keeping the UN-South African dialogue alive, and if so, whether it can produce any useful results. If not, we may face strong pressures for international enforcement measures against South Africa which would pose serious dilemmas for American policy.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 19 SW AFR/UN. Confidential; No Foreign Dissem. Drafted by Lambert Heyniger, cleared by G.H. Summ, and released by David E. Mark (INR/Africa and the American Republics). All brackets are in the original.
  2. Waldheim submitted his report April 30. For action taken in response to Waldheim’s report, including the South African response, and other issues relating to Namibia, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1973, pp. 721–729.