The people of Kwa Ngema want to keep their homes. But the people of Kwa Ngema are black, and the white government of South Africa is determined to uproot them as it has uprooted approximately 3.5 million Africans since 1960.
The process of separating the black and white areas began decades ago, legislatively in 1913, but it is only since the National Party assumed political control of South Africa in 1948 that African landowners have been moved from their ancient homes in order to tidy the checkerboard map of the country. Whites have been moved, too, but only in a few instances.
The 160 families composing Kwa Ngema live in an isolated village - the South African government calls it a ''black spot'' - in the southeastern corner of Transvaal, near the white-dominated town of Wakkerstroom. Nearby is another black spot, Dreifontein, which became notorious last year when the police killed a village leader who was opposing official plans to end its existence.
This year, in a further celebrated action protested by the United States State Department, the villagers of Mogopa, in the western Transvaal, were moved into an African homeland. They had protested vociferously and resisted passively but were one day put on trucks and sent away.
The cumulative result of removing Africans is called consolidation, for it eliminates black spots and brings Africans together into one or another of the country's 10 reserves, or homelands. It also strips Africans of their claims to South African rather than homeland citizenship.
The homelands comprise about 13 percent of the total land area of South Africa and are meant to, but cannot, provide for about 10 million to 12 million of the country's 25 million blacks. There are about 4.3 million whites.
The people of Kwa Ngema are Zulu-speaking. Their case is unique to relations between Britain and South Africa because King Edward VII, Queen Elizabeth's great-grandfather, in 1904 gave the land in dispute to the Zulu warriors for their loyal help in fighting the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
Last month their case was discussed officially when Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha of South Africa had talks in London with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Earlier this month Mrs. Thatcher renewed the diplomatic assault. Her ambassador to South Africa both delivered a sharp message to Mr. Botha and publicly assured the villagers of Kwa Ngema that her majesty's government would try to stand behind them.
The petition presented a simple argument: ''We believed this land was ours forever,'' they wrote. ''Accordingly we have made our homes here, developed the land, built schools and have lived in peace.''
''We love this land of ours. It has two rivers and very good rich soil. We own tractors and plough maize and beans and often sell our surplus. We also own large herds of cattle and they are fat and healthy. Our ancestors are buried here, and we are able to tend their graves.''
The petition ends: ''Since England gave us this land, how can South Africa take it away?''
At Dreifontein and Mogopa, as well as countless other black spots, Africans have resisted being removed, but always in vain. For decades the South African government has been pushing Africans off lands which they owned and onto parts of homelands which were over-populated, overgrazed, impoverished, and poorly provided with water, roads, schools, and other facilities.
The families of Kwa Ngema fear being removed to Oshoek, a town on the barren border of Swaziland. Oshoek is several hundred miles away. Their petition says that Oshoek lacks ''proper soil.'' The government, however, says that the floodwaters of a proposed dam will destroy Kwa Ngema and, in any case the area will be wanted for housing for white workers.
Mrs. Thatcher reputedly gave Mr. Botha an earful on the subject of Kwa Ngema and removals. Now, in diplomatic terms, her government has become even more vocal. But, given Mr. Botha's insistence that Kwa Ngema must go, the families may soon find themselves separated from their ancestral lands. When the police come, their houses will be demolished and trucks will take them, willingly or not, to Oshoek or an equally undesirable, possibly waterless, location.
Or will Mr. Botha, who claims to be a reformer, this time heed King Edward VII, his queenly descendant, and the ringing voice of Mrs. Thatcher?