The South African government this past week was as effective as one hand clapping. It tried to get the world to notice what it regarded as a major public relations blunder by one of its arch foes, Sam Nujoma, the Namibian guerrilla leader.
Nujoma, interviewed in New York by the government-run South African Broadcasting movement was "not fighting for majority rule. We are fighting to seize power in Namibia for the benefit of the Namibian people. We are revolutionaries."
Seeing the statement as a major blunder that would discredit Nujoma, president of the South West Africa People's Organization, in the West, the South African government mounted a wide-ranging publicity campaign. Despite this effort, Nujoma's statement went largely unnoticed in the West.
SWAPO and the South African government have been involved in delicate negotiations for the past 10 months, trying to work out a settlement that would lead to the independence of Southwest Africa, also known as Namibia, by the end of this year.
One of the key issues is the transition period during which free and independent elections would be held to install majority rule in Namibia. The South Africans have long been accusing Nujoma of planning to set up a "Marxist dictatorship" in Namibia and they seized on Nojoma's statement as a proof.
South African newspapers gave front page display to Nujoma's remarks and South African embassies abroad sent press releases to editors quoting their principal adversary in South West Africa. Their efforts, for the most part, were ignored.
For the South Africans, it was an example of what they regard as the West's bias against their country. Because of this alleged bias the West critizes South Africa for closing down a newspaper and holding political prisoners yet ignores these events when they happen in black-ruled countries, the say.
Likewise, Nujoma's remark was not subject to the same scrutiny that would have been given to a similar comment from a white south African leader, their reasoning goes.
Not one to lose an opportunity to strengthen his negotiating hand, Prime Minister John Vorster quickly called upon the Western powers who are mediating between SWAPO and South Africa in the negotiations - the United States, Canada, Britain, France and West Germany - to give their reaction to Nujoma's statement. So far, they have not responded since Vorster made no formal request for their views.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Pik Botha said Monday that the silence of the West on Nujoma's remarks "was proof that the conscience of the West was bothering it."
The Western mediators are said to feel that Nujoma's position on majority rule has nothing to do with his participation in free elections.
"If he wants to declare the end of majority rule after he's won an election, then he can," said one observer. "There are also some people in the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (a South African-supported political group in Namibia) who aren't so interested in majority rule," he added.
Among SWAPO's leadership there is some embarrasement at Nujoma's remark and SWAPO executives have subsequently explained what he meant. Shapua Kaukungua, Swapo's representative to Britain and Western Europe, said "If majority rule means handing over to the Turnhalle, then we are against it. But SWAPO is fighting for the total independence of Namibia and it represents the majority of the Namibian people."
The sparse news coverage given Nujoma's remarks in American and Britian newspapers was portrayed here as evidence of anti-South African bias.
"Nothing, absolutely nothing that favours South Africa will ever get printed in Western newspapers," said one South African.
In the mind of the white South African public it is the five Western powers that have forced South Africa to negotiate with SWAPO. They are preplexed that newspapers in these countries which are the traditional home of majority rule, have not made more of a fuss about Nujomo's remark or tried to get him to expalin it.
"The Western press should have jumped on Nujoma to find out what he meant," said one journalist.
"Can you imagine what would have happened if Prime Minister Ian Smith (of Rhodesia) or Vorster saidhe was against majority rule?" asked another.