Shooting of black leader turns spotlight on S. Africa's resettlement plan

The recent death of a black community leader in South Africa has focused attention on this country's continuing policy of exclusion and isolation of the black majority.

Saul Mkhize was shot by police at a meeting of residents of Driefontein organized to resist the government's plans to forcibly ''resettle'' them on to two tribal ''homelands.''

Police claim the shooting was in self-defense, while groups like the Black Sash human rights organization say eyewitness accounts suggest the police were guilty of gross overreaction.

Whatever the precise cause of Mr. Mkhize's death, the incident has brought new attention to South Africa's ongoing policy of forcing blacks into 10 ethnic ''homelands.''

Pretoria's master plan is to make all of South Africa's 21 million blacks citizens of one or another homeland, leaving 87 percent of the territory of the republic to the sole political discretion of the white minority. The plan is not only to exclude blacks from the bulk of South Africa but to isolate them along ethnic lines from each other.

All blacks are assigned citizenship to one or another of these homelands, and when the territories are granted an ''independent'' status, their ''citizens'' lose all rights in greater South Africa. Over 8 million blacks have already been declared statutory foreigners by Pretoria.

The policy of ''resettlement'' against which Mkhize was battling is carried out relentlessly even though in many cases the homelands to which blacks are relocated are already overcrowded and impoverished. They are suffering particular hardship now under a severe drought.

The Black Sash estimates that since 1960 there have been 3 million removals, and mostly by force.

South Africa's minister for cooperation and development, Pieter J.G. Koornhof , has since 1980 repeatedly stated that the government would no longer force blacks to resettle against their will. However, groups that have worked with black communities to resist relocation say the only evident change is from a policy of outright force to one of ''coercion and intimidation.''

The case of Driefontein offers one apparent example of how the government uses a combination of inducements and threats to accomplish its goal.

Driefontein is a small rural community of about 5,000 in South Africa's Transvaal Province. Blacks purchased freehold title to the land from whites in 1912 - a practice outlawed in South Africa after 1913.

The people of Driefontein, made up of Swazis and Zulus, first learned of their pending removal in 1965. In April 1981 the community got official word from the government that it was to be ''resettled.'' Despite initial opposition from the chairman of the local board, the community agreed to the move. Opposition to the move from other members of the community sprouted with Saul Mkhize as its leader. Police harassment of the community increased, according to residents, and Saul Mkhize's son was assaulted by police and imprisoned briefly.

The Black Sash estimates there are still about 1 million black South Africans threatened with forced ''resettlement.'' Minister Koornhof recently told Parliament there were still 75 ''black spots'' like Driefontein (where blacks hold freehold title) that had to be eradicated.

The subjects of South Africa's resettlement policy are usually small, isolated rural villages. Consequently the practice goes on without much fanfare.

Many white South African's display a surprising amount of ignorance about resettlement, some refusing to acknowledge it happens.

The Black Sash has tried to promote awareness here and abroad about resettlement. It has had some success. But as one Black Sash expert on resettlement notes: ''When you turn the spotlight on one community, like Driefontein, it just quietly happens somewhere else.''

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