The black African countries yesterday requested an urgent Security Council meeting to consider action against South Africa for its apparent refusal to allow United Nations supervision of pre-independence elections in Namibia.
It was not immediately clear, though, whether the move was an African bid to provoke an immediate showdown on the question of invoking economic sanctions against South Africa or a more subtle maneuver aimed at influencing a United States-led Western effort to work out a Namibia solution.
Outwardly, the African request seemed to run counter to the arguments of the United States and four other Western members of the Security Council for patience and restraint in dealing with South Arica over Namibia.
Some African diplomatic sources said, however, the real reason behind the move was to get the five - the United States, Britain, France, West Germany and Canada - to confide more in the Africans and was also an attempt to convince them that the West is not trying to pacify South Africa at the expense of black African interests.
"We are confused by the Western position; we think we're being given a lot of double talk," one of these sources said. "We don't want to prempt the West's chances of getting a Namibia solution, but we want a better explanation of what's going on."
If such explanations are made to the Africans' satisifaction, the sources said, the bid for immediate council action probably will be sidetracked. But, they also warned, if the Africans are not convinced about the West's good faith, they will push for an immediate decision on sanctions and force the United States and its allies to decide, as one source put it, "whether they stand with us or with South Africa."
Foreign ministers from the five Western countries visited Pretoria last week and concluded that South Africa had not closed the door on eventual U.N. supervision of the elections to choose a government to rule Namibia when it gains independence from South Africa.
As a result, the five Western countries have adopted a strategy of trying to avoid an immediate confrontation over sanctions, while waiting to see whether South Africa makes good on a promise to try to arrange elections under U.N. auspices sometime next year.
In the past, the United States and other Western nations have opposed economic sanctions against South Africa, which has ruled Namibia, formerly known as Southwest Africa, since 1920 under an old League of Nations mandate. The Western powers have an estimated $20 billion in investments in South Africa and import large amounts of strategic minerals from that country.
Pressures for the West to support sanctions increased greatly after South Africa backed out of a U.N.-sponsored plan for overseeing Namibia's move to independence.
Fearing that a U.N. presence would result in the elections being won by the Southwest Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which has been waging a guerrilla war against South Africa, the Pretoria government decided to go it alone and hold elections on Dec. 4.
That triggered last week's Western ministerial visit to Pretoria. The discussions there with Prime Minister Pieter Botha have been causing considerable confusion ever since their results were announced.
South Africa said it would proceed with its planned December elections, but it also promised to try to persuade those who are elected to cooperate in holding U.N.-organized elections sometime next spring. The Western powers, while emphasizing that they would not recognize the results of the December balloting, said they would regard the South African promise as meaning that the plan for elections under U.N. supervision is still on track.
In explaining the Western position, a senior U.S. official said yesterday that, while the West has no guarantees that elections under U.N. supervision eventually will take place, the best course is to wait and give South Africa time to make good on its promise.
But, the same official conceded, the West has been having trouble in pressing that argument on the African states. He said the Africans understandably have been confused by the results of the Pretoria meeting and are suspicious that the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] may be trying to put something over on them.