Trouble in S. African homeland, Most promising homeland beset by violence, economic woes

For this South African-created black ``homeland,'' the honeymoon may be over. Geographically, the place has always been an oddity -- seven separate chunks of land tied together on the basis of their large Setswana-speaking population.

The homeland is best known for ``Sun City,'' the casino complex that is southern Africa's answer to Las Vegas. But Bophuthatswana's Western-style constitution, human-rights record, vocal criticism of apartheid (South Africa's policy of racial segregation), and economy have made it seem the most viable of the 10 black statelets set up by Pretoria. Bophuthatswana and three other homelands have been designated ``independent'' by Pretoria. But that status is not recognized by any other country in the world.

``For a while it seemed as if this homeland could isolate itself from the politics and problems of South Africa,'' says a teacher at Bophuthatswana University.

But that has changed. Political violence and a budget squeeze have brought the government of Lucas Mangope under pressure.

Recently Mr. Mangope paid a visit to the focal area of the violence, the twin towns of Garankuwa and Mabopani, north of Pretoria. These towns, like Soweto near Johannesburg, are composed mainly of black laborers who commute into white areas where they work.

Government ministers here said in interviews that during his visit to these towns, Mangope appealed to a ``silent majority'' to help crack down on troublemakers.

The Bophuthatswana supreme court issued a restraining order last week in response to allegations of police brutality around Garankuwa.

An official in the transport company that runs buses for Bophuthatswana's commuter force interviewed here in Mmabatho said the unrest is more serious than sketchy accounts in the South African press suggest. Petrol bombs hurled at buses have ``left 20 buses complete write-offs in the past two months, and 28 others have been damaged.''

When asked about the violence, Foreign Minister T. W. Motatlhwa called it a ``spillover from South Africa.'' He said instigators of the unrest were young blacks from outside. He charged that these youths had abducted children and harassed, even murdered, older citizens.

Mmabatho has escaped violence, but not political unrest.

A bid by anti-apartheid activists last October to stage a day of prayer in conjunction with a similar protest throughout South Africa sparked a crisis at the university here. Other small-scale protests have taken place on campus.

Mangope briefly shut the school down. The government added new security laws giving it the right to bar the university from registering certain students or hiring particular professors.

Meanwhile, economically speaking, South Africa's debt crisis and the slide of its currency, the South African rand -- legal tender in Bophuthatswana -- have contributed to a financial squeeze here.

Bophuthatswana's finance minister says the falling rand has made imports more expensive. At the same time, overspending on major development projects has produced a budget deficit of roughly $100 million. This homeland's entire budget totals only about $450 million.

The statewide economic crisis should be the easiest problem for Mangope to resolve. To tide things over, the government has scaled down development plans, and will rely heavily on its earnings as a top world platinum producer.

Politically, Mangope's personal touch may be a continuing asset for quieting unrest. He personally heard appeals from some of the several dozen students and teachers who were threatened with dismissal during the recent unrest at the university. Most retained their status.

The crisis at Garankuwa, however, seems less tractable. A court wrangle last week over police action there has brought Mangope -- a defendant, in his lesser capacity as law and order minister -- into the front line of a political test of wills.

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