Pretoria, South Africa — "I don't think you must get the impression that it is nice for the department to move people," he says, leaning forward in his chair. "We know it is disruptive, but to get your whole constitutional structure and land areas properly constructed, it is necessary to move people."
The speaker is J. L. Serfontein, an official of the South African government's Department of Cooperation and Development. He is one of the foot soldiers of apartheid, the white government's officials masterminding the separation of the races in this southern African country.
These officials are engaged in a radical redrawing of the South African map in an effort to carve 10 separate, ethnically based ministates out of the white-ruled republic. On this day, three of the officials are gathered in a government office building here in Pretoria to explain why and how they go about the process.
There is little in the appearance of the three men, all of them Afrikaners, to distinguish them from the thousands of bureaucrats who populate this tree-shaded capital city. One has the look of a portly, white-haired grandfather; another of a middle-aged bookkeeper; the third, of a former policeman or, perhaps, a prizefighter.
Yet, among them, they routinely approve actions that drastically affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of black people.
The officials are unemotional in detailing their government's policy for sorting out conflicting black and white claims to this southern African country by, in effect, chopping it to pieces. They often slip into the peculiar argot -- some critics liken it to Orwellian doublespeak -- of the South African racial bureaucracy, in which tribal reserves are dubbed "national states" and apartheid , never mentioned by name, is obliquely referred to as "the policy."
There is a certain wariness, even a halfheartedness, about their discourse, however. Perhaps it is because they have repeated the words so often. Or perhaps they harbor a deep suspicion that, despite their best efforts, few people reading their words will appreciate the essential rightness of their stand.
For many government officials here complain that the outside world simply does not comprehend the magnitude of their problems -- or the strategy they have chosen to solve them.
Basic to that strategy is the notion that South Africa does not, in fact, constitute a single nation. Instead, government theorists argue that it is really a conglomeration of 11 nations, each with its own unique language, culture, and customs.
Ten of these nations are made up of various ethnic groups, such a Zulus, Xhosas, and Tswanas. The remaining nation is defined only as "white", even though its constituent groups do not necessarily share the same ethnic lineage or mother tongue.
White officials argue that governing South Africa by majority rule in a unitary state is simply out of the question. Whites would be swamped, they warn , by a black majority with markedly different standards and totally alien values.
Moreover, white officials claim, black groups would be unable to agree among themselves on just which one should govern. South Africa would be torn by factional squabbling or, worse, tribal welfare, they predict.
Consequently, the white government has settled on a policy of "separate governments for each national group," says Mr. Serfontein.
These governments should have jurisdiction over clearly delineated geographical areas, he continues, containing as many black people as possible.
"After all," he elaborates, "you can't have a state without people."
And the Department of Cooperation and Development is charged with grouping black people into their respective "national states."
"If you want to have a government ruling its own people," Serfontein explains , "you must have a consolidation of these particular areas."
And to have consolidation, he adds, "You must move some people."
The South African government has done precisely that -- uprooting between 2 and 3 million black people over the past three decades.
There are myriad philosophical, political, and moral objections to this policy of mass removals. Chief among them is the fact that whites, who make up only about 17 percent of the population here, claim for themselves 86 percent of the land.
But there are other, perhaps even more fundamental, questions about the South African government's race policies. They concern not so much the fairness of those policies as the methods of carrying them out.
Specifically, once the government sets about creating "separate governments for each national group," how does it populate the resultant ethnic enclaves carved out of "white" South Africa? How does it get black people to board the white flatbed trucks it uses to transport them to relocation areas, or camps, as they are sometimes called? And what do black people find at the end of the ride?
To begin with, the South African government claims that it does not start removals of black people "unless the people concerned have been thoroughly consulted."
At a church gathering last year, Lutheran Bishop S. E. Serote recounted some unusual instances of "consultation" prior to the removal of black people from the northern Transvaal Province.
"A 12-year-old child was carried away with the household goods, in the absence of the parents. A mother was carried away in the absence of her husband. Heads of families who were definitely against moving were forcibly thrown into removal trucks after being chased and subdued by police dogs."
There are, as we shall see, indications that the government is now relying less on such blatantly strong-arm tactics and more on indirect forms of coercion. For example, at present is trying to force several thousand black people out of St. Wendolin's, a township near Durban. Instead of merely bringing in bulldozers to level the dwellings -- as it has done many times in the past in other locales -- the government is ordering the black residents to demolish their houses themselves.
The South African government also claims it consults with black people in choosing the areas to which they will be moved.
But Percy Hlope, a resident of Matiwane's Kop -- a black settlement of some 12,000 people slated for obliteration because it is in a "white" farming area -- says he has no firm idea of where government officials are planning to move him and his fellow villagers.
"It is somewhere over there," he says, gesturing vaguely to the southeast.
It is true that the government sometimes does load black people onto buses for an advance inspection of the areas to which they are being moved. In a few instances, vociferous complaining has resulted in a change of site for the relocation camp.
The government calls this "negotiation." But such negotiation has its limits; staying in their present location is not among the options open to black people under threat of removal, except in rare instances where international publicity has thwarted the government's plans.
A government position paper claims that blacks who are removed get "compensatory land of equal pastoral or agricultural value."
There are important qualifications to that statement, however. Only blacks who own more than 20 morgen of land -- about 40 acres -- are entitled to land in the relocation areas. And they are not given the new plots -- they must purchase them.
The majority of black people removed from white areas have no land, since for the past half-century it has been illegal for them to purchase land outside the tribal reserves.
And there is disagreement over the term "equal pastoral or agricultural value." Chief Mhloleni Mthiyane, whose peoplea are being moved off their acreage on the Indian Ocean coast, says the land they now have grows a wide variety of crops, including tropical fruits. The government is planning to move his people to a stony, drought-prone inland area suitable only for cattle farming, he says. Removal would mean "a total change in the lives of the people," the chief concludes.
The government claims it adequately compensates black people for the homes they leave behind.
"Compensation is paid for all improvements to the land," says Mr. Serfontein.
A government position paper claims that "compensation, exceeding 1,000 rand [
However, the average compensation made in 1979 for families removed from the northern Transvaal Province was only 53 rand ($63), and many of the families left behind well-maintained homes.
Alfred Mngadi, who was forced to move when a black settlement called Roosboom was demolished, scoffs at the notion that the proferred compensation was fair. One example he cited: A fence enclosing a half-acre plot was valued at only 5 rand ($6).
Mr. Mngadi contested the government claims, and the valuation was eventually increased threefold. But most black people, he says, simply don't know how to take the complicated legal steps required to challenge the government -- and many are too frightened to do so.
Mngadi also says he was forced to sell his cattle and other livestock when he was moved, and incurred a substantial loss. Other black people voice similar complaints.
The government also claims it provides certain minimum facilities in the relocation camps -- facilities that, it is claimed, are often lacking at the former sites.
"It is laid-down policy," says Serfontein, "that we provide water and sanitation at the new site."
But there are neither water taps nor toilets at some sites in KwaNdebele, the newest tribal reserve now rising from the dusty farmlands of the central Transvaal Province.
And for many other relocation camps, such as Onverwacht -- which contains more than 100,000 people -- sanitary facilities amount to nothing more than bucket toilets at the back of each plot. In some camps, only crude pit latrines are provided.
There are apparently no firm standards for water supplies in the relocation camps.
M. G. Lotter, chief director of administration for the Department of Cooperation and Development, says only that "the policy of the department is that the water must be provided within easy reach."
For the dwellers of the Nondweni relocation camp in northern KwaZulu, "easy reach" often means from a stagnant pool that catches the runoff from cattle pastures. Here, as in other relocation camps, residents complain that the taps installed by the government are inadequate and often run dry.
During periodic droughts, water has to be trucked in to some relocation camps , particularly those in the KwaZulu and Ciskei reserves.
Still, even a part-time water supply would have been welcomed by the people of Qhudeni, a relocation area in desolate mountain terrain north of the town of Kranskop in Natal Province. According to the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), an agency concerned with black removals, no water at all was supplied to the settlement by the government. After five years, a private contractor built a dam for Qhudeni, according to an AFRA worker. But, she adds, some tests indicate the water is severely polluted.
Mr. Serfontein claims that the government also provides clinics and schools in the new locations.
"And a shopping center," adds Mr. Lotter, helpfully.
That will come as news to the people of Compensation relocation camp, west of the city of Pietermaritzburg. AFRA found that "despite government assurances that nobody is moved before schools, shops, and clinics are available, this basic infrastructure has still not been provided. . . . There are no shops, clinics, churches, community centers, or telephones on the site."
Sometimes the South African government disclaims responsibility for providing services in the relocation camps by arguing that these are the responsibility of the respective "homeland government" in which each camp is relocated.
"Decisions for the removals are taken in full consultation with the homeland governments," an official government document claims.
Not so, says Dr. Oscar Dhlomo, a spokesman for the KwaZulu government. It is "neither consulted nor informed about such removals," he says.
Moreover, he adds, "The central government has powers which override ours, and we have no option but to countenance the resettlement."
Well, then, what about the government claim -- made in an official position paper -- that "the majority of people are happy to move"?
There are, no doubt, some people who are happy. One resident of the Rooiston resettlement area, in the northern Transvaal Province, termed his new home area "a good place."
"The government gave me land free and I can grow tomatoes and mealies [corn], " he said.
But if he had a choice of staying in Rooiston or moving back to the white area from which he was evicted, which would he choose?
"The white area," was his unhesitating reply.
"Because the white areas are always better."
But the fact is that few black people have a choice.
"We did not want to come here," says Mr. Mngadi, who led resistance to the demolition of Roosboom. "But if you refused, the government would just steamroll your house."
Some observers hoped that such strong-arm tactics would be abandoned in July 1980, when Dr. Pieter Koornhof, the minister of cooperation and development, promised an end to forced removals.
But the next month, according to AFRA documents, several carloads of government officials and police converged on Umbulwane, a black residential area in the "white" city of Ladysmith. The officials reportedly told the black people to leave, and bulldozed a number of dwellings.
The officials returned later in the year and, according to residents, knocked down a few more homes. Indeed, a number of partly demolished structures can still be found in Umbulwane at this writing.
Moreover, residents of Umbulwane say they have no other place to go if they are kicked out of their houses -- despite government assurances that alternative sites are provided as a matter of policy.
The Umbulwane incident notwithstanding, some experts say they do detect a new government approach to removals.
But it is not a softening, says Sheena Duncan, an official of the Black Sash women's organization. "All that has changed," she says, "is that the government has gotten a lot more skilled in persuading people to move." And she gestures to indicate that the word "persuading" should be placed in quotation marks.
This new skill was first applied in Jan Kemp Dorp, a small farming town in the northern Cape Province. Government officials have for years tried to remove some 3,000 blacks from a black township called Valspan, on the outskirts of the town.
Because the township was slated for removal, the government steadfastly refused to make improvements. Today Valspan is, in truth, nothing more than a squalid slum, a motley collection of tin and mud shanties with communal toilets and water taps.
But the government has constructed a new township, called Pampierstad, some 15 miles away. Pampierstad is everything that Valspan is not: a model township of neat four-room dwellings, wide avenues, and new schools and clinics. Each house has indoor water taps and a backyard toilet.
The South African government claims that no one is forced to move to Pampierstad (although one community leader, M. R. Cwaile, says that some residents are threattened with eviction). But the government has also made it clear that no improvements will be made at Valspan.
On the face of it, residents have two fairly straightforward options: stay in an aging, deteriorating township or move to a modern, well-planned new one.
Not surprisingly, the community has split on the issue, with some residents staying on in Valspan and others moving to Pampierstad. For those who move, the decision quickly becomes irrevocable: As soon as they clear out, the government bulldozes their dwellings.
Certainly, each township has its own advantages -- and its problems. Valspan , despite its squalor, is an easy walk from Jan Kemp Dorp's pleasant downtown shopping district. Pampierstad, though a decidedly cleaner place, is isolated, surrounded by farmland, and an expensive bus ride away from town.
But there is another, altogether more important distinction between the two locales. Valspan is indisputably within the Republic of South Africa, while Pampierstad is in Bophuthatswana, a tribal reserve that has been declared "independent" of South Africa.
Of course, not a single other nation except South Africa has recognized the sovereignty of Bophuthatswana. In fact, there is not so much as a sign marking the imaginary boundary between the two "countries". Yet the white South African government disclaims responsibility for the black people living beyond the line, insisting they are subjects of Bophuthatswana.
Consequently, the black people of Valspan actually face something of a Hobson's choice -- or, as some critics view it, a Mephistophelean dilemna: They can stay in squalor, or move and forfeit any claim to political rights in the country of their birth.
Black people in other parts of South Africa face similar problems, as the ultimate objective of apartheid -- denationalization of South Africa's black citizens -- comes closer to realization.
For example, hundreds of thousands of black people have been grouped into Bophuthatswana -- an ethnic enclave for Tswana-speaking people -- even though they are not Tswanas. Many complain of harassment and discrimination at the hands of Bophuthatswana authorities. Some non-Tswanas protest that they cannot enroll their children in school, receive medical care at state-run clinics or hospitals, or gain access to farmland unless they take out Bophuthatswana "citizenship." That, of course, would mean forfeiture of South African citizenship.
Consequently, many of these people have fled Bophuthatswana. And often the only place open to them is a relocation camp in some other tribal reserve.
Tens of thousands of Sotho people, for example, have flocked to the Onverwacht resettlement area rather than submit to the Bophuthatswana authorities. And an estimated 100,000 Ndebele people have moved out of Bophuthatswana after repeated clashes with authorities there.
They are being placed in a new reserve, called KwaNdebele, northeast of Pretoria. The area is a sprawling mass of tin shanties, and some sites have neither toilet facilities nor nearby drinking water.
Nevertheless, white South African officials proudly cite this "voluntary" mass movement of people as an example of the "national reawakening of the Ndebele people."
The white government is already making plans to declare KwaNdebele "independent" of South Africa, with the assent of only a relative handful of tribal officials. And already the Holiday Inn hotel chain is reported to be scouting the area for a site for a gambling casino (a move that would add another imprimatur of legitimacy on KwaNdebele's "independence," since casino gambling is illegal in "white" South Africa).
Meanwhile, many of the women in the area are selling off their heirlooms -- such as the distinctive beaded aprons that mark their progression through adolescence and marriage.
"The people in KwaNdebele are desperate," says an official of the South African Institute of Race Relations, in explaining an act analogous to American women parting with engagement and wedding rings.
Nevertheless, Mr. Serfontein says the creation of KwaNdebele is yet another indication of the basic correctness of South African government policy -- "separate governments for each national group."
But, to one relief worker in the area, it is something quite different, indeed.
"Generally, I would say a farmer treats his cattle better than these people are treated," he says.
"Because a farmer, before he herds his cattle onto a piece of ground, at least makes sure they have food and water. These people have nothing. They're just left -- on empty ground."
Tomorrow: What the futute might hold for South Africa's uprooted peoples.