S. African black 'homelands' not developing as intended

The black ''homelands'' that are rising from South Africa's blueprints for separation of the races are not exactly what their national architects envisioned.

The plan: Remote rural states will provide jobs and a vote for blacks, allowing whites to keep their grip on the bulk of the country.

The reality: The rural states are backwashes of poverty, unemployment, and political frustration for blacks. White power is challenged. The races grow more , not less, intertwined.

The homelands are not developing as hoped - a fact well illustrated with the hoisting of the flag of ''independence'' over the Ciskei Dec. 4.

The Ciskei is the fourth black homeland to become ''independent.'' It is a status not recognized internationally. But in the eyes of South Africa, the motion means the state becomes a sovereign entity with its own government.

But even strong advocates of the homelands policy concede the black states are ''independent in name only.'' Ciskei, to an even greater extent than the homelands taking independence before it (Venda, Transkei, and Bophuthatswana), is economically feeble and highly dependent on South Africa for its survival.

Ciskei is a poor agricultural region that depends on outside aid for one-third of its revenue, according to one estimate.

Government critics reject the homelands policy as a clear attempt by South Africa to confine blacks to poor rural states from which they will have no claim to rights in greater ''white'' South Africa. Blacks affected by the homelands policy are 72 percent of the total population. The 10 homelands territories granted to blacks constitute 13.7 percent of the land.

Early architects of the homelands policy seemed to have had one basic goal in mind: the avoidance of an integrated society in which blacks would eventually dominate by sheer weight of numbers. Black aspirations would be confined to tribal states where they would run their own affairs.

A recent assessment of the homelands by the South African Institute of International Affairs concludes that, measured against the original objectives of safeguarding white rule and accommodating black nationalism, ''the achievements are not impressive.''

Indeed, while whites remain firmly in control of South Africa, their rule is challenged now more seriously ''than ever before,'' says Deon Geldenhuys, author of the study. And, he says, the homeland ethnic divisions, based on language, have become anathema to black nationalism.

Even some supporters of the homelands policy agree they no longer provide an ultimate solution for South Africa. ''These states are not being recognized, so they remain captive allies of the Republic of South Africa. They must be brought into the mainstream of economic and political development of South Africa,'' says Prof. G. C. Olivier of the University of Pretoria.

The South African government has acknowledged the economic failure, in general, of the homelands. Despite considerable investment from Pretoria - homeland development is South Africa's second largest budgetary item after defense - the government has found economics pay little attention to political bondaries.

This has led to a more regional economic strategy. Government subsidies and grants will be used to expand economic development. These programs will not necessarily be in the homelands, and will provide jobs and revenue in both black and white communities.

The more liberal camp of the ruling National Party sees this as a recognition that ultimately there will be regional, multiracial power-sharing of some kind. They believe homeland political boundaries will fade in importance.

However, there is also strong resistance to such an outcome. National Party conservatives are ''dead scared of power sharing,'' says Professor Olivier. They stand firm in their belief that homelands should become completely independent states, joined only with ''white'' South Africa in some loose common market confederation.

Many blacks see the homelands as fundamentally wrong, no matter what alterations are made. ''The only real objective is to stop blacks' rights,'' says one black activist. ''Partitioning people is not going to help.''

An important feature of the homelands policy is that all South African blacks are considered citizens of one or other homeland, regardless of where they live. With ''independence,'' their South African citizenship is withdrawn.

One major failure of the homelands is that blacks continue to flood into the cities, where they can get better jobs and where the economy is increasingly dependent on their labor. About half the black population now lives in the cities, and this despite a concerted effort by South Africa, with its resettlement and influx control policies, to contain urbanization.

At the turn of the century, ''white'' urban South Africa will have 4.8 million whites and 20 million blacks, according to a ''conservative'' projection by the Bureau for Economic Policy and Analysis at the University of Pretoria.

This stands in sharp contrast to the notion expressed early in the development of the homelands policy by former Prime Minister Dr. H. F. Verwoerd that the movement of blacks to cities would slow by 1978.

Stripped of political ideology, some see benefits from the homelands policy. It has provided a structure for rural development that would have been necessary regardless of political considerations, given the underdeveloped nature of rural South Africa, argues Erich Leistner, director of the Africa Institute. But he adds that economic development in the homelands has been less successful than it could have been because it has taken a back seat to the political and social objectives of the homelands policy.

The Ciskei looks to be the most challenging economically. It has the highest population density of the homelands, virtually no industrial infrastructure, and a deteriorating environment ecologically.

Ciskei's fortunes will rise or fall with agriculture. The Ciskei government has launched several impressive irrigation projects that are having considerable success. Yet government officials concede it will take many years before these few projects spawn surrounding economic activty to the benefit of a significant number of people.

The Ciskei could also face considerable internal tumoil. It contains a large township of workers with jobs in nearby East London. Many belong to trade unions that have opposed Ciskei independence. Ciskei has warned the unions to ''toe the line'' after independence. Some worry that South Africa's labor stability could be affected.

Still, whatever problems exist with the homelands, South Africa's ruling National Party remains committed to the establishment of black ''independent'' states. ''The homelands (policy) is a central pillar,'' says one observer knowledgeable about government thinking on the subject.

The only alternative to the homelands, argued a recent editorial in a leading Afrikaans newspaper, is black competition for central political power, which is unacceptable to the white minority.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.