Johannesburg — One day there will be no black South Africans, exulted a white government minister back in 1978. A new report on the subject says Pretoria has been ''brutally successful'' in that endeavor, delusory as it might sound considering that more than 70 percent of the South African population is black. Yet the government has:
* Uprooted and relocated well over 3.5 million people, mostly blacks, over the past two decades.
* Set its sights on relocating another 2 million blacks in the near future.
* Accomplished this massive resettlement of people through force, which continues to be the main tactic despite government insistence that removals are now done on a voluntary basis.
These are the main conclusions of a report dubbed the Surplus People Project, written by a group of academicians, religious figures, community workers, and individuals involved in nonprofit organizations. Project members include blacks and whites; all have volunteered their time and most have been consistent government critics. The report is one of the most comprehensive reviews ever made of South Africa's policy of forced population resettlement.
Pretoria's aim has been unwavering, says the report. It has sought through forced resettlement to keep South Africa's black majority separate and as distant as economically possible from the ruling white minority. All this to ensure that whites will be able to retain power.
The government's ''process of disposession,'' as described in the report, begins with as many blacks as possible being physically forced to live in tribal ''homelands.'' It ends when those ''homelands'' are brought to ''independence'' by Pretoria and all the blacks assigned to that territory are stripped of their South African citizenship.
Carried to its conclusion, Pretoria's policy will result someday in the statutory exclusion of all this country's blacks from South African citizenship.
The statistics in the report are staggering. They suggest that the government will soon have relocated more blacks than the sum total of the entire white population of some 4.5 million.
While the forced relocation of blacks is not a uniform process, the report notes that the general direction has been the same: ''out of the towns, cities and farming areas falling in the 87 percent of the country designated for white onwership.'' The black ''homelands'' comprise the remaining 13 percent of the South African land mass.
One measure of the government's success in thwarting the process of urbanization by blacks and the racial integration of communities is the rising percentage of blacks living in the ''homelands.'' In 1960 some 39 percent of the black population lived in those tribal territories, compared with 54 percent today.
For those blacks resettled, the process has brought ''enormous suffering,'' according to the report. Cohesive, self-sufficient black communities have been deprived of land and relocated in ''hastily flung-together settlements'' where rudimentary facilities like taps, toilets, and shelter are ''very poor.''
The report speaks of the social and psychological damage done to blacks by the resettlement process, which it finds more significant than the material deprivation. Says the report: ''The dominant mood in relocation areas is often one of passivity and helplessness in the face of the enormous problems and the hidden bureaucracy that controls people's lives.''
The most sinister result of the government's relocation policy is not so much the physical suffering it brings to many blacks, says the report. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of the policy, along with other laws, that have the net effect of dispossessing blacks of their land and citizenship and forcing them into areas where they are cut off from jobs, services, and the opportunity to improve their living conditions.
The resettlement policy is bolstered by stringent influx control laws that restrict blacks' ability to legally go to the cities in search of jobs. The government has indicated it intends to further tighten influx control.
The South African government has adopted an increasingly low profile on the issue of resettlement, apparently feeling the less said about the policy the better. This report points to statements by the government that removals are now being done on a voluntary basis.
However, the report documents a number of case studies and comes to the conclusion that while the coercion process has become more sophisticated, it remains for blacks an ''involuntary'' process nonetheless. ''In a situation where blacks do not possess political rights or freedom of movement, there can be no talk of them exercising a free choice about being removed,'' it says.