Prospects bleak for Ciskei blacks after 'independence'
Zweledinga, Ciskei, South Africa
Venerable Mzolisi Mpondo has one of those grizzled ebony faces that find their way onto African travel posters and post cards. But tourists in this white-ruled country would have a hard time finding him. For he is one of hundreds of thousands of black people that have been shunted to desolate rural areas of the Ciskei tribal reserve in furtherance of the South African system of apartheid, or separation of the races.Skip to next paragraph
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Apartheid has, as one of its goals, the physical removal of black people from cities and farmlands that whites claim for their own. The result: concentrations of black people in the country's rural areas, far from employment opportunities, and often in conditions of abject poverty.
Nowhere has the policy had more devastating effect than here in Ciskei, in the south-central part of South Africa. According to Rhodes University researcher Nancy Charton, some 350,000 people have been resettled into the area. In the process, large parts of isolated Ciskei have been turned into rural slums.
The statistics look pretty bleak. Infant mortality in some areas is over 10 percent, according to a physician working in the region. (By comparison, the infant mortality rate in the United States in 1978 was 1.36 percent.) Malnutrition is evident among half of all two- and three-year-olds, according to some surveys. Annual per capita income in 1976 -- the last year for which figures are available -- was estimated at only about $275.
The real-life situation belies even those bleak statistics. Tens of thousands of people are living in overcrowded squalor, mired in poverty. Yet, instead of launching plans to improve these areas, the South African government has plans to declare them "independent" on Dec. 4 of this year, when it officially excises Ciskei from the white-ruled South African Republic.
That move, according to the government's critics, will allow it to disclaim further responsibility for the rural slums that it has created in furtherance of its racist policies.
The South African government defends its actions, however, arguing that it is really giving "self-determination" to the black people of Ciskei.
"Our policy," says one official, "is to have separate governments for every national group."
"What's going to happen to this place after independence?" asks a community worker, gesturing towards a densely-packed agglomeration of shanties known as the Oxton resettlement camp.
At Oxton, tens of thousands of people have been jammed onto a wedge of land in haphazard fashion. Most of the mud, tin, and clapboard shanties are separated from each other by only a few feet. The outdoor toilets of some households stand near the fron doors of adjoining dwellings, yet this crowded camp is surrounded by rolling acres of vacant land that the government has reserved for cattle grazing.
Nearby is another camp, called Zweledinga, which in the Xhosa language means "promised land." People moving here were promised arable land. Some are still waiting, after nearly five years, in a transit camp denuded of virtually all vegetation. Amid rocks and rubbish, people share tiny plots with pigs, goats, and scrawny dogs.