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South Africa's Archipelago; Strangers in their own land

By Gary ThatcherStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 1981



Matiwane's Kop, Zululand, South Africa

Percy Hlope speaks in calm, measured tones about the threat. A white farmer has closed off access to a spring where some of the villagers of Matiwane's Kop have traditionally drawn their water. If they don't stop coming on his land, he has warned, he will put poison in the water.

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"When we asked him why," says Mr. Hlope, "he told us, 'don't blame me.Blame God, who made you black and me white.'"

The adherent of that distorted theology was simply stepping up the pressure on the residents of Matiwane's Kop to get off the land their forebears had purchased in the 1870s.

He need not have resorted to such a crude tactic. The South African government will see to it that Mr. Hlope -- along with 12,000 other Zulu people -- is moved off the land. And it will be done in a perfectly legal and orderly manner.

For Matiwane's Kop is a village of black people in an area that the South African government has set aside for whites only. So it will be moved. It is as simple as that.

Matiwane's Kop is, in government parlance, another "black spot" that must be erased to help make South Africa predominantly white. The white-minority government has already started painting large numbers on the dwelling here, a sure signal that they are slated for demolition.

The government is preparing a relocation camp in a tribal reserve somewhere to the east of here. The people of Matiwane's Kop will be trucked there -- and left on bare ground to begin rebuilding their lives.

But Mr. Hlope doubts that will be possible. Gazing over the rolling hills surrounding his modest house, watching the afternoon autumn sun bathe the cattle grazing in waist-high grass, Mr. Hlope says, "I don't dream of leaving. I don't imagine having a place better than this one.

"The main thing," he says of the white officials planning his uprooting, "is that they want to deprive us of the land."

And they will probably succeed, too. For the government has forced the relocation of between 2 and 3 million black people over the past two decades in an effort to bring about apartheid -- racial separateness -- in this multiethnic nation. And despite the government's claims to be entering a new era of racial reconciliation, it continues to shunt black people into tribal reserves and, in many cases, turn their land over to whites.

It amounts to one of the largest forced migrations of people in recent history. And yet it is barely visible.

To find evidence of it, one has to travel to the remote rural areas of South Africa. Just below the country's northern border, for example, there is a sprawling agglomeration of people called Indermark. For four miles, Indermark stretches into the desolate bush country of the northern Transvaal Province. No industries or major businesses line its rutted red-dirt streets, only a few small trading stores and gas stations -- and row upon row of shanties. Some families, newly arrived, are living in green canvas tents.

Indermark could easily be missed by someone passing on the nearest road. So could Onverwacht, another huge relocation camp in the Orange Free State Province. Hidden in a valley outside the town of Thaba Nchu, some 100,000 people are living in squalor, with only bucket latrines for sanitation.

And then there is Oxton, where another 20,000 to 30,000 black people are jammed onto a wedge-shaped piece of ground in the remote stretches of the Ciskei tribal reserve. Most live in crude mud-and-plank houses, with only the most rudimentary sanitary facilities.

And outside the town of Ladysmith, in Natal Province, there is Ezakheni, a violent place of tin huts and cinder-block houses where many of the residents are afraid to venture out after dark. One unwilling inhabitant, Elliot Mngadi, says of the smoke-palled ghetto in which he is forced to live, "If you come into a place like this, you're going straight into hell."