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S. African blacks struggle for survival in winter recession

''I've got nothing there for the winter,'' says a black man, pulling open a threadbare jacket and pointing to his thin waistline. Blacks in South Africa are wondering if there is any room left for belt-tightening as they brace for a third winter of economic recession. And some are lashing out at the white government for making their plight worse with what they call skewed economic priorities.

Blacks have been sharply critical of the new budget unveiled by the South African government which grants a whopping 21 percent rise in defense expenditures. That handsome increase comes on the back of an economy that has shrunk for two years running, representing South Africa's sharpest recession in 30 years.

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For whites the recession has caused discomfort. For many blacks it has meant a grim battle for survival. In the rural areas, for instance, blacks say the taste of meat has been all but forgotten. Corn meal has become the only food many blacks can afford - and even that is in short supply because of drought.

South Africa's economic problems stem from the two sectors that have always been its strong points: agriculture and gold. The price of gold has been declining since early 1983, cutting South Africa's single greatest source of export income.

At the same time, two years of drought have withered South Africa's maize crop, making the country an importer instead of an exporter of the grain. For the first time ever, South Africa this year is expected to import more maize than it produces.

For blacks, a downward economic cycle is made far worse by the policies of the ruling white minority. Blacks need permission from the white authorities to be in the urban areas where job prospects are best. But unemployed blacks are not allowed in the urban areas; they must be recruited from the rural sectors. So in a contracting economy, blacks are forced to sit idly by in impoverished rural settlements, waiting for job opportunities that usually never come.

The government publishes no accurate figures on black unemployment, but private economists estimate it is somewhere between 10 and 20 percent in the urban areas. In the rural areas it is estimated to be far higher.

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