Why S. Africa evicts Mr. Hari from his home

C. Hari, an Indian South African, found out 18 months ago that he was moving. A note tacked to his front door told him so.

South Africa is evicting Mr. Hari from his home because he is Indian. His neighborhood of Pageview, where he and his father were born, has been declared by the government for whites only.

But the government's plan to demolish the Muslim-style community to make way for whites has, over time, only strengthened Hari's resolve to stay put.

''It's totally unreasonable,'' he says of the government order that would relocate him in an Indian community 20 miles from Johannesburg. He now lives within walking distance of his city office.

Hari's battle to remain in Pageview will probably be futile, as have been most challenges to Pretoria's unwavering commitment to strict racial segregation in housing. But it highlights the depths of resentment this policy has generated in the Indian and Colored (mixed-race) communities that the policy affects.

''I will leave the country before moving 20 miles from the city,'' Hari says adamantly.

Under South Africa's Group Areas Act, the government can relocate individuals or entire neighborhoods in order to keep the races apart, and to keep, in its words, ''friction'' to a minimum. The law deals with Coloreds and Indians. Other legislation regulates black communities.

Apparently sensing that his supporters in the ruling National Party would tolerate no easing of the Group Areas Act, Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha recently reassured the party the act would be retained even as other constitutional ''reforms'' are held out to Indians and Coloreds. The decision rankles Indian and Colored critics of the government, who find the law a means of pushing them into crowded government-controlled communities, far from the cities where they work.

''This (retention of the Group Areas Act) indicates to us the meaninglessness of the constitutional reforms,'' says one Indian social worker. The Black Sash human-rights organization estimates that a half million people have been relocated under the Group Areas Act. The vast majority have been Coloreds and Indians, although some whites have also been affected.

Pretoria's commitment to racially segregated housing increasingly flies in the face of other realities. A slumping economy has forced the South African government to recognize it can no longer afford to provide the housing needed by the ''nonwhite'' population. However, even as the housing shortage for Coloreds and Indians grows more acute, the government continues to force removals when there is no alternate accommodation available.

Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, is a good example. Indians and Coloreds continue to migrate to this city for higher wages and better jobs. Although many are quickly employed in an economy that is desparately short of skilled labor, they often find there is no ''legal'' housing available.

What they find available are apartments in the central city that whites have vacated to move to the suburbs. There are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Indians and Coloreds living ''illegally'' in ''white'' Johannesburg.

Although the government acknowledges a shortage of housing - some 5,000 Indians are on an official waiting list for housing in Johannesburg - it has continued to press for forced removals of Group Areas Act violators.

The Action Committee to Stop Evictions (Actstop) was formed four years ago to defend those being evicted and is now planning an appeal of some of the 45 convictions gained by the government late last year.

While the cases are on appeal, Actstop chairman Cassim Saloojee says the government has switched tactics.

''The government now is trying to pressurize landlords and estate agents to push these people out,'' he says.

Although Actstop originally took the attitude that evictions should not take place unless there were alternative housing available, Mr. Saloojee now says the only answer to the problem is the total scrapping of the Group Areas Act. He says the law itself, by allowing bureaucratic and ideological considerations to rule the housing market, is the main cause of the housing shortage. The shortage will only end when the law is gone, he reasons.

Hari sees the decision to make Pageview white as only making the overall housing shortage worse. The government plans to raze the community and rebuild it for low-income whites.

But Hari points out the government's blueprint calls for enough homes for 265 white families, where it once housed 1,200 Indian families that have since relocated to the already crowded Indian township 20 miles from the city.

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