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Principle or Pragmatism? : Botswana, Tied to S. Africa, Is Pulled in Two Directions

August 31, 1986|SCOTT KRAFT | Times Staff Writer

Botswana is also part of a customs arrangement under which South Africa collects duties for Botswana. Most flights from Gaborone, the capital, go to Johannesburg. Botswana residents do not need a visa to go to South Africa.

Botswana, therefore, has a vital interest in how South Africa's government reacts to the growing international pressure.

President Quett Masire says his country's future depends "on a whole range of factors--whether the world will abandon us, whether South Africa will use sanctions against us, even whether the government in South Africa is still sitting."

Import Laundering

There have been recent signs that South African businessmen may try to circumvent world sanctions by using Botswana's good name. Dozens of businessmen have been making quiet inquiries about setting up branch offices in Gaborone. Some hope to import their goods from South Africa, put Botswana labels on them and then ship them to Europe and the United States.

No one knows how many South African goods are already being laundered that way through Botswana, but economic analysts here say some wines and juice produced in South Africa have turned up in Europe and elsewhere with "Made in Botswana" labels.

Botswana has been trying to reduce its dependence on South Africa. One of those efforts is the Southern African Development Coordination Conference, or SADCC. The SADCC countries hope to increase trade among themselves and decrease their dependence on South Africa.

Still Independent

Botswana, ruled by the British until 1966, is one of the few colonies in Africa to achieve independence without the emergence of a significant nationalist movement. Gaborone, the largest city with 60,000 residents, was a village with only a couple of buildings just 30 years ago. Now it resembles a small middle-American town, with a dry, mild climate similar to that of Southern California.

A few years ago, Botswana followed a harder line toward South Africa. But when President Masire and his vice president made the rounds of town meetings, they found many outspoken critics of that policy. Thousands of residents living within a rifle shot of South Africa were unhappy with Botswana's combative talk.

'Just a Mistake'

Brian Egner, an economic consultant here, explains the attitude this way: "We don't like them, but we don't see any sense in infuriating them."

This town of fewer than 1,000 people, a few miles from Gaborone, became a center of attention in May. The man who died in the apartment complex, Jabulawi Masalila, was a veterinarian and taught primary school classes at night as a volunteer. He also played on apartment owner Maloiso's soccer team.

"It's obvious South Africa just made a mistake" in thinking the apartments were part of an ANC operation, said Maloiso, who is just beginning to rebuild his apartment complex. "But this was sure a painful price to pay for another country's confusion."

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