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S. Africa's homelands plan proves an economic failure

Economic forces are showing little respect for South Africa's policy of separate development for its black population. If not actually breaking down the geographical boundaries South Africa has established for its 10 black "homelands," economic factors "certainly are making those borders much softer," noted government economist Simon Brand at a recent conference here on political reform in South Africa.

These territories are meant to be "self-governing," but they are not proving so in any economic sense. As Dr. Brand puts it, economic forces have to some extent "prevailed over constitutional intentions" in the forming of the homelands. As a result, government policy has begun to change in two key economic areas, which he describes as:

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* Less emphasis on separate industrial development in each of the homeland areas. The new approach is the encourage other economic growth -- like agriculture, tourism, and mining -- for homelands where industrialization has not taken hold. Implicit in this is the need for a mechanism that allows homelands to share the prosperity of industrial centers that cut across political boundaries.

* More emphasis on economic opportunities for blacks in the cities and the development of some form of "political accomodation" for urban blacks. Blacks in urban areas technically remain migrant workers employed on a temporary basis outside their homelands, even though there is general recognition that blacks have become a permanent feature of the metropolitan economies.

A basic contradiction in the South African economy is that while unemployment runs high in many homelands, the white-run sector of the economy is woefully short of skilled labor. The shortages are such that lack of skilled and semiskilled manpower is holding back the growth of the national economy.

The homelands are rejected by many blacks who consider themselves entitled to full rights and citizenship in South Africa proper. The government has established the political territories to coincide roughly with what it sees as the geographical homelands of various black tribal groups.

South Africa considers all the homelands to be "self-governing" states and is encouraging them to take independence. Three have done so. A fourth, the Ciskei, will follow suit later this year. However, no country outside South Africa recognizes their independence.

A major factor that continues to undermine the notion that these homelands can stand on their own is their dismal economic performance. Generally, the areas assigned as homelands were the most economically stagnant regions of South Africa.

Dr. Brand notes that only a few of the homeland states have achieved what he considers the minimum criteria for success. He defines that as a situation where a "significant proportion" of the population of each state is able to earn a living inside or within commuting distance of the territory and a "significant share" of the homeland's expenditures are met through local revenues.

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The homeland's economies are propped up by the South African government. Contributions in 1981 will total about $1 billion out of an annual national budget of $17 billion.

The President's council will soon formulate recommendations for a new constitution for South Africa. Yet the chairman of the committee drafting the constitution concedes, "However brilliant a proposed constitution may be, it will not work unless it is supported by the social and economic milieu in which it is to be applied."

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