If South Africa closes its ports, the two landlocked countries would have great difficulty exporting their agricultural products and minerals, and importing the equipment they need.
Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland are even more dependent on the government-run South African transport system, which also carries goods to and from Malawi and Zaire.
South Africa supplies most of the electricity for Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. The Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland governments get much of their revenues from the Southern Africa Customs Union, an arrangement under which the South African government imposes and collects customs duties for the member countries.
And tens of thousands of workers from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are employed in South Africa, sending home much of their pay.
"A South African economic blockade would bring Zambia and Zimbabwe to a halt within six weeks," Prof. Carl Noffke of Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg said in an interview. "South Africa could hold Zambia, Zimbabwe and perhaps other so-called front-line (neighboring) countries to ransom if we needed leverage with the West and had no other option."
Loss of Markets
Such retaliatory tactics could prove costly. The economic relationship is one of mutual need. Black African countries buy more and more here. South Africa's elaborate transport system needs the heavy volume of goods that it carries for its neighbors to pay operating and development costs. And South African gold and coal mines could not operate without their foreign workers.
"Why should one hurt one's friends?" asks Harry Schwarz, a member of the white opposition Progressive Federal Party. "There are friends to be lost, and the country has not got that many."
Schwarz argues that any counter-sanctions could lead the neighboring countries to provide sanctuaries for black nationalist guerrillas on South Africa's borders and to the loss of small but growing markets for the country's exports.
However, the Botha government feels that an important point must be made: "We must show that we are not going to capitulate to sanctions or other such pressure," said a senior National Party member of Parliament, "and the people who need this lesson are not only in Washington and London but next door in Harare and Lusaka, where this call for sanctions has been the loudest."
At home, Botha increasingly is using what he calls "this hysterical clamor" for sanctions and the threat of "foreign interference" to rally whites to his National Party, which earlier this year appeared to be losing support to the far right and seemed unable to offset those defections with gains from among moderates and liberals.
Now Botha is cheered wildly when he tells whites, as he did again this month at a party convention in Bloemfontein, that foreigners are trying to take their country from them but that he will never allow it.
"We are not a nation of weaklings!" Botha says. "We are not jellyfish! We will not be broken so easily; in fact, we will not be broken at all!"
The tougher his stand, the more they cheer.
Gains in Polls
His fellow Dutch-descended Afrikaners, troubled by the racial unrest and by the government's repeal of many apartheid laws, had begun to desert the National Party but are now returning. English-speaking whites, highly critical of Botha earlier this year as they demanded broader reforms, appear to be backing him now in significantly larger numbers.
Sixty-seven percent of urban whites say they approve of the way that Botha is handling the presidency, according to the latest opinion surveys. The polls credit both Botha's tough action to deal with the country's civil strife--the three-month-old state of emergency--and his refusal to bow to foreign pressure for faster and deeper changes.
Many Nationalists believe that the government's position has been so strengthened by these two factors that Botha will call early parliamentary elections to win a new mandate from white voters for further reforms, including a "power-sharing" constitution.
"From a purely partisan point of view, we are in much better shape than we were six months ago," said Stoffel van der Merwe, a National Party member of Parliament and one of the party's most prominent liberals. "While we strongly oppose sanctions as counterproductive and even criminal . . . sanctions are proving to be a tremendously unifying force within the party and the nation."
The Nationalists seem almost to be welcoming a foreign withdrawal from South Africa. Many say, quite seriously, that they can see economic benefits from sanctions over the long run.
A program of "inward industrialization" already is winning broad support as a way not only to counter sanctions but to spur South Africa's economic development after several years of limited growth or reduced output.