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For blacks, joining a 'homeland' means leaving home

Bertha Ndobo's prize posession is her home. It has been almost 10 years since she and her eldest daughter finished building the mud-wall, four-room structure.

Mrs. Ndobo, a widow, points with pride to the row of full-grown trees out back. She planted them years ago, and now plucks fresh apples, figs, and peaches from their branches. Nearby is a thriving vegetable garden. Chickens scatter underfoot.

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Like most of the residents of this rural cluster of villages called Mgwali, Mrs. Ndobo lives a modest life by Western standards. But compared to the rural poverty that occupies much of the surrounding countryside here along South Africa's south coast, she and her neighbors live in something of an oasis.

They comprise a community with roots and cohesion. Many were born here, some have title to land, and all contributed to a community that is able to stand on its own feet economically.

However, South Africa's ''homelands'' policy of carving out separate territories for the nation's black population is casting a shadow across Mgwali.

On Dec. 4 the Ciskei homeland will be designated an ''independent'' state - although it is unlikely that any other nation of the world will recognize it as such.

The residents of Mgwali are categorized Ciskeian by virtue of their language and ancestry. And since they live outside their designated homelands in a ''white'' area, the South African government intends to move them within the boundaries of Ciskei.

Only workers with employment contracts or those with special rights to be in urban areas are technically allowed to remain outside the Ciskei.

It will mean a relocation of several thousand people a distance of some 25 miles.

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Mrs. Ndobo's main concern is whether she will be able to muster the energy to build a new home if the government does not provide suitable shelter.

''It will be so difficult for me to build in this new place,'' she says, shaking her head from side to side.

''There is no water there,'' objects Mr. H.D. Gija, one of Mgwali's most prosperous residents. Mr. Gija was born in Mgwali, and despite government assurances that the new land on which he will be relocated is good, he is not convinced. ''They take us from a good place, to that place,'' he gestures with disgust.

Mgwali was reportedly established in the late 1800s by a black missionary. Some 150 residents were allowed freehold title to property. But even land ownership will not prevent relocation.

In Parliament in September the government was asked why Mgwali was to be moved. It responded that the rural community was a ''badly situated black area.'' The government gives it this designation because Mgwali falls outside the designated homeland of its residents. The government resolves the situation by relocating, or resettling, the residents.

Resettlement has gone on extensively in the Ciskei in recent years in preparation for ''independence.'' A new assessment by the Human Awareness Program, a research and educational group in Johannesburg, states that 100,000 to 150,000 people have been resettled into the Ciskei since 1970.

The worst resettlement areas are on the northern regions of the Ciskei where facilities like shelter and water are minimal. It is also an area where land and vegetation are deteriorating, making agricultural prospects bleak.

Glenmore, on the southwestern edge of the Ciskei, is considered one of the ''better'' resettlement camps. Yet it, too, bears the features of a poor squatter camp. Rows of temporary wooden sheds serve as housing for the 4,000 inhabitants. The settlement is dominated by women and children living on government pensions or money sent from husbands working as ''migrant'' labor outside their ''homeland.''

It is the conditions of such resettlement camps, and the obvious problems they pose for the leaders of the Ciskei, that make analysts question the advantage of moving a reasonably stable and self-supporting community like Mgwali.

A Ciskeian official insists the scheduled new location for the Mgwali residents is better than their existing site. But he concedes there are ''sociological problems'' with moving a group of people.

For one thing, the residents must uproot and start new lives in an unknown area. Whether the community will regroup successfully is impossible to tell. Should they not be able to support themselves in the resettlement area, it will further add to the sizable problems of the Ciskei.

The Ciskei is already overpopulated as far as being able to feed itself. It is a poor farming region with almost no real industrial infrastructure, heavily dependent on financial support from South Africa.

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