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South Africa suddenly allows Cape blacks to compete for jobs

Blacks in the southern part of South Africa appear to be getting a limited better deal from the nation's white-minority government: For the first time blacks in Cape Province will be allowed 99-year leases on their homes, rather than short-term rentals, and apparently are to be allowed to compete for jobs on a more equal footing with people of other racial backgrounds.

The changes, announced last week at a Cape Province meeting of the ruling National Party, appear to knock a dent into the white government's policy of strict racial segregation of every facet of life. They acknowledge the presence of blacks in Cape Province.

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Until now, the Nationalists have insisted that Africans should never be allowed to gain a permanent foothold in the huge Western Cape section of Cape Province, whatever happened elsewhere in the country. The government went so far as to formally draw a line on the map to make it clear: thus far, and no farther.

In striking down its policy giving job preference to people of mixed race in the Cape, it appears that at least some blacks will be able take jobs other than the heavy manual labor most usually do here. The Colored preference policy in effect allowed whites and people of mixed race - even immigrants - to jump ahead of blacks in the job line, even if the blacks are well qualified for jobs.

But opposition to the policy has been building for years. Even many Coloreds, whose jobs were in theory protected by the policy, said the practice was unfair and unnecessary.

The policy changes, which seemed to come out of the blue last week, are widely welcomed here. But there is still deep suspicion about how the leasehold dispensation will be applied.

Suspicions center on the apparent intention that blacks will be allowed 99 -year leases only in one area - the sandy, windswept new township of Khayelitsha , located some 20 miles from Cape Town. The site is farther away from jobs than most other black settlements.

The government announced this past Tuesday that between 70,000 and 80,000 Africans who are living in squatter camps near the city will be moved to Khayelitsha soon. Many blacks worry that they will be forced to leave their current homes for Khayelitsha against their will.

The Western Cape was the only area in which the black presence was essentially unrecognized.

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Some analysts say the change reflects an acknowledgement by the government that its influx-control policies - designed to keep blacks out of urban areas - have failed.

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