MOST male inhabitants of this rural community of some 9,000 black South Africans have fled since Pretoria handed over their land to a nominally independent tribal homeland against their will. Eight months ago the town of Braklaagte officially became part of Bophuthatswana, the homeland of the Tswana tribe. As civil-rights groups predicted, the close-knit community has been shattered by escalating violence and repression at Tswana hands.
``I am worried sick about my family,'' said Johnson Motosi, who, like most of the men of Braklaagte, had to flee to escape a purge by the feared Bophuthatswana police.
Mr. Motosi, a storekeeper in Braklaagte, is now in hiding in Johannesburg. He has not seen his wife and five children since he was told by friends more than a month ago that police had visited his house and beaten his children.
His story has been repeated many times in South Africa's rural interior as the ruling National Party has forged ahead with plans for territorial segregation known as ``grand apartheid.''
In the process, more than 3 million black people have been forcibly removed in an act of social engineering which has caused intense suffering and disruption.
At least 11 people - including 9 black policemen - have died in the current civil unrest, and 48 tribespeople have been charged with their murder. In addition some 65 people have been charged with public violence and arson.
Many of the residents of Braklaagte have been detained. Some have been abducted while in hiding in South Africa. Many have told their lawyers they were brutally beaten and tortured by the homeland police.
Chief Pupsey Sebogodi, the acting chief of the community, has been detained three times and charged with the murder of the nine policemen.
Civil-rights lawyers insist that the Bophuthatswana authorities of Chief Lucas Mangope, the Tswana leader, will go to any lengths to crush popular opposition to the incorporation of Braklaagte - and the 15,000-strong neighboring community of Leeuwfontein.
``We want to remain part of South Africa because of the cruelty of the Bophuthatswana police and the harsh restrictions we are subjected to,'' said William Konyane, a teenager who said he was beaten by the homeland police during four days of interrogation in July.
``The Bophuthatswana police are much worse than the South African police,'' he said. ``Sometimes they kill you.''
The resistance of the people of Braklaagte and Leeuwfontein, who are among a handful of rural blacks who own the land on which they live, is an extraordinary saga of determination, courage, and suffering that spans more than half a century.
Following international protests in the early 1980s, the National Party began slowing the pace of nationwide removals.
Instead of removing inhabitants from areas designated by Pretoria as ``black spots,'' the authorities resorted to redrawing the boundaries of the tribal homelands, to achieve the same goal.
Through this process the government has absolved itself of responsibility for the welfare needs and political aspirations of about 12 million black South Africans.
At the same time the strategy has helped placate the demands of Pretoria-installed homeland leaders for more land, and sought to induce them to accept Pretoria-style independence.
Four of the nine designated homelands - Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Ciskei, and Venda - have accepted ``independence.''
But the government has failed to remove a deep-seated hatred among blacks of the tribal homeland system, which they identify with deprivation and violent repression.
Social welfare and educational services in the homelands are invariably inferior to those offered in South Africa, and the homeland administrations have been shown to be riddled with corruption. Employment is scarce, wages are lower, and poverty is rife.
Incorporation often means loss of South African citizenship, and blacks fear seizure of their land.
The Braklaagte community, which acquired the land in 1907, was first threatened with removal in 1938, a decade before the National Party came to power.
In 1958, the Nationalists threatened Braklaagte with removal, but the militant resistance of the community, which coincided with nationwide defiance of apartheid laws, thwarted the plan.
Over the next two decades the government forged ahead with its homeland plans, and in 1976, Bophuthatswana accepted independence after widespread suppression of popular dissent.
In 1985, a government commission recommended the incorporation of the black-owned land in the two communities into the homeland, along with the buying out of surrounding white-owned farms.
The decision was presented to Braklaagte as a fait accompli in 1986. The community reacted angrily, and 3,000 residents signed a petition opposing the incorporation and applying for the restoration of their South African citizenship, which they lost when the homeland became independent.
Although the Pretoria government has said residents of Braklaagte can retain their citizenship after incorporation, the Bophuthatswana authorities are known to be hostile to those who reject homeland citizenship.
Pretoria began moving ahead with incorporation in June 1987. Development aid minister Gerrit Viljoen agreed to meet representatives of the community last December to hear their opposition.
Subsequent developments indicated that the government had already taken the decision to publish the incorporation decree when Dr. Viljoen met the community. The decree appeared in the official Government Gazette on Dec. 31, despite a last-minute appeal by the community to prevent it.
A cycle of violence erupted in the usually tranquil community in March, when security forces established a camp near the home of a tribal chief favored by the homeland administration as the community leader.
According to civil-rights lawyers, the homeland police began beating children and used teargas, dogs, and whips to break up tribal meetings to discuss resistance.
On May 31, Chief Mangope, the Tswana leader, addressed a small crowd at Leeuwfontein and told the community he would use his police force to crush all dissent.
``Beware that Bophuthatswana is like a prickly pear,'' he said, referring to the cactus-like fruit with sharp spines. ``It is very tasty, but it is also dangerous. I warn you strongly not to abuse me,'' Chief Mangope said. ``If you do I will prick you and pierce you like a prickly pear.''
On July 1, police in armored vehicles drove into a gathering of the two communities at Leeuwfontein firing teargas and rubber bullets. In the ensuing chaos nine policemen and two residents died.
Since then, homeland police have conducted a relentless search for the culprits, both in the two communities and in South Africa. On July 13, the homeland authorities outlawed the two main civil-rights groups assisting the community to resist the forced incorporation - the white-run Black Sash, and the Transvaal Rural Action Committee (TRAC).
``This type of action does nothing more than confirm the `banana republic' status of Bophuthatswana,'' said Brian Currin, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, a national civil-rights group.
A notable feature of the Braklaagte saga has been the close collaboration of the Bophuthatswana and South African police.
``The two police forces are co-operating,'' said Sheena Duncan, vice-president of the Ecumenical South African Council of Churches. ``It is a very dangerous situation when you have security forces with their own undisciplined fears and terrors.''
Two urgent applications last week in a Johannesburg court against the two police forces following abductions of Braklaagte residents in Johannesburg have drawn the first assurances from the authorities. They undertook to observe existing extradition procedures between the two countries, allow legal access, and prevent further assaults on detainees.
``The events of the last few days confirm South Africa's ongoing involvement in the tragedy it has created, but of which it has subsequently washed its hands,'' said a TRAC spokesman.
Dr. Viljoen's Department of Development Aid now takes the view that events at Braklaagte are the responsibility of Bophuthatswana, a foreign country.