THE VATICAN reaffirmed its total opposition to apartheid and its support for an independent Namibia in a statement released shortly after Pope John Paul 11 met Mr P W Botha, The South African Prithe 'Minister, on Monday. As is customary, no details of the private audience were revealed but Vatican officials described the exhange as "frank".
Mr Botha's departure from the Vatican was swiftly followed by the release of the statement which pointed out that the Pope "receives heads of state and of governments and political personalities from the most diverse regimes if they request a meeting". Such audiences do not imply any papal approval for the policy of those received, but allow an opportunity for an exchange of views, the statements said.
It went on to recall the Pope's plea for independence for Namibia last January, and described recent South African accords with Mozambique and Swaziland as a "positive evolution". However, the statement concluded by mentioning the repeated reservations of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference about apartheid which was "judged contrary to the Christian principal of the equal dignity of all men".
Mr Botha, who is the first South African Prime Minister ever to be received in the Vatican, was accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Mr Pik Botha. They later met Signor Bettino Craxi, the Italian Prime Minister and Mr. Chester Crocker, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affiars.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference made it clear before the visit that It did not oppose the Pope meeting Mr. Botha. In a statement they said that although "we realise that many people in South Africa were totally opposed to the Pope's receiving Mr Botha", the bishops fell that "even when people differ profoundly, dialogue can prove helpful".
The Catholic bishops' view was not shared by Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu of the South African Council of Churches who described the Pope's meeting with Mr Botha as "a slap in the lace to all victims of apartheid".
The 28-minute audience with the Pope took place against the backcloth of church protests at the arrest of 37 people attending a barbecue at a Catholic training centre in Namibia. The Council of Churches in Namibia has condemned the arrests in the strongest possible terms.
Some 100 people had gathered at Doebra Training College near Windhoek to celebrate the release of 54 men and women who had been held as unofficial prisoners of war at the Mariental Internment Camp after being captured by South African troops in a cross-border raid into Angola in May 1978.
Among those arrested by security police at Doebra the acting President of the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), Mr Nathaniel Maxuilili. Police later said that they were considering a possible conviction under the terms of Notification of Meetings Act, which prohibits illegal political gatherings.
The vicar-general at Doebra, Hr Heinrich Henning, replied angrily that the church had given its permission for the barbecue, and that it had been a peaceful meeting. The political wing of SWAPO, which is campaigning for the independence of South West Africa, administered by the South Africans since the first World War, is tolerated by the authorities in Namibia, although its movements are severely restricted. It is thought that these latest arrests may mark a renewed campaign by the authorities to outlaw the organisation.
In their statement, the executive committee of the Council of Churches of Namibia denounced the arrests as "unchristian" and "unjustifiable". They said that "such actions serve only to further poison the attitudes and relationships of people inside our country", and called for the release and pardon of all those detained.
The statement was signed by Bishop Boniface Haushiju, the Catholic Bishop of Windhoek.
See editorial, Page 4