Pretoria to quit Walvis Bay: Multi-party body's policy breakthrough

John Carlin
Tuesday 17 August 1993 23:02

THE LAST piece in the Namibian independence jigsaw has fallen into place following agreement by Pretoria to relinquish sovereignty over Walvis Bay, South Africa's Gibraltar.

When Namibia obtained independence from South Africa in 1990, the deal's brokers, the United Nations, did not factor in this small coastal enclave - deemed of strategic significance by the South African navy - 500 miles north of the two countries' border.

This week the South African government bowed to geographic logic and the requirements of international law with an agreement to abandon 'at the earliest opportunity' its 83-year hold on the small port - the only deep-water port on Namibia's coastline - a number of small off-shore islands and an adjoining strip of desert.

In a historic development, the government took its cue from the body that in practice has taken over from the white parliament as the country's top decision-making body - the multi-party Negotiating Council. It was the first time the Council, which is paving the way for democratic elections and a new constitution, had taken a decision of such magnitude.

The Namibian Foreign Minister, Theo-Ben Gurirab, welcomed what he called a victory for common sense: 'I am happy, very happy indeed.'

It had been touch-and-go at a meeting on Monday of the Negotiating Council whether Namibia's happiness would be complete. Only a week ago, the South African government had said it had no intention yet of abandoning its hold on Walvis Bay. After heated exchanges between the chief negotiator for the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, and South Africa's Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, a resolution was passed and endorsed by the government calling for 'the incorporation-reintegration of Walvis Bay and the Off-Shore Islands into Namibia'.

During the debate, Mr Ramaphosa had appealed to the council 'to restore to the people of Namibia what truly belongs to them', adding: 'We don't have any business with Walvis Bay.'

At a press conference later, Mr Botha said he did not understand what all the fuss was about as there had never been any doubt in principle about the incorporation of the disputed territory into Namibia. But he said he believed the matter should have been left to a new, elected government. He added the he had no idea how soon the transfer of sovereignty would take place.

A spokesman for the right-wing Conservative Party later, however, attacked the decision as a 'sell-out' to the ANC and the Communist Party.

Mr Gurirab said he was confident Walvis Bay would return to Namibia by 27 April next year, the date scheduled for South Africa's general elections. He reassured South Africans living in the area that their rights, interests and property would be safe and protected under Namibian law.

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