Drought, few jobs: South African blacks face bleak winter

Cold winds announce that the Southern Hemisphere winter is just around the corner. For blacks in South Africa, it is apt to be an extraordinarily chilly season.

Blacks are facing a double whammy of severe drought and rapidly rising unemployment. And many of them - particularly those in the rural areas - must cope with the situation from already economically precarious positions.

''We have an explosive situation'' says Bishop Desmond Tutu of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).

The number of blacks out of work in South Africa, according to official government statistics, is fast approaching a half million. This number only reflects ''registered'' black work-seekers and does not include the unemployed in the so-called independent ''homelands.'' Private economists say the real unemployment total could easily be twice the official tally.

South Africa is in the midst of its deepest economic slump since World War II , and layoffs are expected to keep rising throughout 1983. Hardest hit are unskilled laborers, who in South Africa are predominantly black.

The present number of unemployed already matches the peak reached at the end of the last recession in 1978.

And this time unemployment can be far more disastrous for blacks. Barclay's National Bank economist Dr. Johan Cloete explains: ''In the 1976-78 recession, when unemployment was increasing and blacks returned to the rural areas, there was at least food there.''

Now, the rural areas are reeling under the worst drought in 50 years. The drought is possibly the most severe this century.

Some 25 member churches and regional councils of churches of the SACC met recently to decide what to do about the drought. They launched an emergency hunger relief program that will include immediate aid as well as long-term development projects.

SACC officials say church representatives from all over South Africa warned grimly that ''thousands'' of children are in danger of dying from insufficient food this winter. Church officials said black families in the rural areas were already drifting into church mission stations in search for food.

Compounding the problem, according to Bishop Tutu, is the South African government's apartheid race policies. The government has ''Balkanized'' South Africa into 10 black ''homelands'' and forced as many blacks as possible to live in these usually poor rural territories.

Overcrowding, disease, and malnutrition already exist in ''homeland'' areas where blacks have been forcibly relocated, says Tutu. And these conditions set the stage for a ''major crisis'' as the drought deepens and as more and more urban unemployed return to the rural areas.

In Onverwacht, one of South Africa's largest resettlement areas, located in the central part of the country, church officials say one child a day is perishing due to ''hunger, starvation, or exposure.''

Also, SACC officials say drought relief efforts are hampered by the multiplicity of authorities the ''homelands'' policy has spawned.

The South African government has dedicated some $18 million for aid to black rural areas. Meanwhile, the government plans to import maize for the first time in two decades to make up for a domestic maize crop that is 60 percent smaller than last year's. In some areas the government has aleady introduced water rationing. And it has warned there might be power cuts later in the year in parts of the country if the drought persists.architecture critic of The Christian Science Monitor.

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