The recent Washington visit of Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), is evidence of the current struggle over southern Africa policy now being played out in Congress and the administration. The latter's demand for removal of the Clark amendment--fortunately, Congress stood firm--and its negotiating style on the Namibia question reflect a rigid and ideological policy in deep disarray.

For example, U.S. policy continues to portray UNITA as a "legitimate political force" in the area. No doubt Savimbi's visit and his reception by top officials were timed to obtain assurances of his support for the Namibia proposals and to influence congressional consideration of the Clark amendment, which bans aid to insurgents in Angola. Savimbi apparently has pledged cooperation on Namibia.

But U.S. officials may be giving him more credibility in this process than he warrants. Consider, for example, that the South West Africa Peoples Organization, fighting to liberate Namibia, has used southern Angola as a sanctuary but has not encountered resistance from UNITA troops. The South Africans' invasions of southern Angola have met with resistance only from SWAPO and from troops of the Angolan MPLA government. This leads to the conclusion that the border region may be impervious to UNITA influence.

In the Namibia negotiations, therefore, the positions of SWAPO and MPLA are what count.

One problem with the Namibia negotiations is the repetition of mixed signals similar to those produced by the Kissinger shuttle concerning Zimbabwe in 1976. Africans have felt that Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker has spent a great deal of time shaping the issues with South Africa and only then has attempted to secure the agreement of SWAPO, Nigeria, the Organization of African Unity and the front-line states. This almost surely will disrupt the one-year timetable put forth by Secretary of State Alexander Haig as the target for Namibia's independence.

One problem is that the United States is attempting to negotiate security guarantees for South Africa in exchange for its cooperation on Namibia. By attempting to obtain the equivalent of a nonaggression treaty against South Africa from a future Namibian government and from the front-line states, the Western Contact Group has stepped over the boundary of state sovereignty. This is going on even as the Reagan administration seeks the repeal of the Clark amendment by arguing it needs complete flexibility to shape American security activities in the region. It is difficult not to conclude that the administration wants to repeal the Clark amendment precisely to pursue such activities in southern Angola, and perhaps elsewhere in southern Africa as well.

Similarly troublesome to the Africans is the attempt to negotiate the specific form of Namibian political representation, rather than have it decided by elected delegates. One part of the attempt to negotiate aspects of a settlement that were not an original part of U.N. Resolution 435 stems from the South Africans' complaint that the United Nations is "biased" in favor of SWAPO. Another part is the interest of every member of the Western Contact Group in the rich mineral holdings of Namibia. Either openly or secretly, some minerals are now being exported to several of these states in violation of U.N. decrees on the protection of Namibian resources.

With the tense relations between the United States and Libya and the possible shut-off of Libyan oil, the oil resources of Angola are becoming as important and attractive to the United States as those of Nigeria. The recent approval of an $85 million Export-Import Bank oil loan to Angola attests to that fact. The Angolan government desires to enter into full discussions on the normalization of relations. The administration refuses. Its policy is being held hostage to anti-communist dogma based on the presence of Cuban military, medical, educational and other technical personnel in Angola. The most productive course would be to understand the security interests of the Angolan government and to work to achieve a realistic Namibian settlement that hastens the departure of South Africa's troops and curtails its regional political and military role.

SWAPO has indicated it will continue to export Namibia's minerals to the West, which presumably would include the United States. However, rather than dealing with SWAPO's political interests in the region, U.S. policy has supported "constructive engagement" with South Africa and UNITA. This choice reflects just the opposite of a hard-headed, pragmatic assessment of U.S. interests in southern Africa. The administration's policy needs a profound change of course.