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South Africa is going back to the drawing board with its largely unsuccessful ''homelands'' policy.

Under the policy, the pillar of Pretoria's segregationist goals, blacks are to return to tribal homelands while whites retain the bulk of the republic. In practice, blacks flock to the cities while the homelands stagnate economically.

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Prof. Frederick R. Tomlinson - whose recommendations for the homelands were rejected 26 years ago because they did not fit with apartheid ideology - has been recalled from retirement for government consultations.

Tomlinson had urged permitting white capital into the reserves, giving them more land and unified boundaries, and setting up an agency to implement the huge rural development program. Pretoria has come to accept some of these recommendations to try to salvage the homelands policy.

Blacks have become more urbanized and increasingly resentful of government policy, which confines their political rights to these homelands.

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