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S. Africa cracks down on squatters

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''Now you must go back to the homelands, as your employers no longer want you here.''

That reported comment, made by a South African magistrate to a black man recently brought to court for violating this country's tough influx control laws , reflects the harsh treatment accompanying a new government ''blitz'' against squatters in the Cape Town region.

The raids are only the latest episode in the perennial battle between the government's policy of apartheid, which aims in part at keeping the number of blacks in ''white'' areas to a minimum, and blacks' desperate search for jobs and housing in those areas.

The confrontation shows signs of intensifying as South Africa's economy contracts and the Nationalist government vows to tighten its system for keeping unwanted blacks out of designated ''white'' urban areas.

Over the past month some 2,000 blacks have been arrested for living and working in the Cape Town area without proper government-issued permits. Officials of the Western Cape Administration Board (WCAB) backed by armed police have been searching migrant worker hostels at dawn for violators as well as stepping up arrests of black women working illegally in white homes.

The main distinction to the current wave of arrests is that they are on a ''much larger scale than usual,'' according to Mrs. Noel Robb of the Black Sash office in Cape Town. The Black Sash is a leading human-rights group that monitors influx control and helps provide legal counsel for those arrested.

A WCAB spokesman says the upturn in arrests is not a sign of a new crackdown but rather a ''resumption of activities'' after a lull.

Except for the size of the raids, South Africa has seen all this before. The most frequent ''battleground'' is the Cape Town region, where black squatting is particularly persistent. Blacks from the nearby Ciskei and Transkei ''homelands'' migrate to the Western Cape in search of jobs only to find that the kinds of jobs they are qualified for have been set aside for the local Colored (mixed race descent) population by the government's labor ''preference policy.''

The government estimates there are some 84,000 blacks living in the Cape Town area without proper permits. It considers these people job poachers who take work from the indigenous Colored population.

Critics of the Colored labor preference policy and influx control in general say they are simply extensions of apartheid, aimed at keeping blacks out of the economic or political mainstream of South Africa.


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