Pretoria under fire for removals. Critics say `urbanization' plan has revived forced relocation
Oukasie, South Africa
Marshal Buys's house has no electricity, no plumbing, no running water. The new, government-supported town up the road has all of these. But, says Mr. Buys, ``I'm not moving. The only way they'll get me out of here is to carry me - or bulldoze my house around me!'' Buys was born in Oukasie 29 years ago and has lived there all his life. He is one of thousands of blacks caught in a test of wills over the government's new doctrine of ``orderly urbanization'' for the black commuting workers packed onto the outskirts of major cities.
The government says its aim in moving blacks is to erase blight, avoid chaos, and improve their lot. It is also to ensure that the dramatic recent repeal of ``pass law'' restrictions on blacks in urban areas doesn't give way to a headlong rush into the cities by even poorer blacks from the countryside.
But the policy has ignited a storm of protest from black residents and anti-apartheid organizations. They charge that, under the guise of the new urbanization doctrine, the government has revived the policy of ``forced removals,'' which over the years has sought to geographically redefine South Africa along strict racial lines. More than 1 million blacks are estimated to have been uprooted, often by force, during the past two decades.
The new series of population transfers in sites around the country comes barely two years after a moratorium on forced removals was announced.
The government's hope is to persuade blacks to move voluntarily to a series of new, racially segregated developments.
Lethlabile, near the white industrial city of Brits north of Johannesburg, is typical of these towns. It has about 200 brick houses for those relatively few blacks who can afford them. Adjacent is row after row of ``site-and-service'' plots - each with a water tap, a shiny metal house about 10 feet square, and a smaller metal closet with a flushable toilet. Lethlabile is also about 10 miles farther from Brits than Oukasie, the town where Buys and some 10,000 other residents seem determined to stay.
In Afrikaans, the name Oukasie means ``old location.'' The town was set up in the 1930s to house the blacks who worked on the white-owned farms and factory floors of Brits. Back then, Brits and Oukasie were a fair distance apart. The Elandsrand suburb of Brits is now a mere 150 yards away in some areas.
``The whites don't want us around,'' one Oukasie resident says. ``That is all there is to it. Otherwise, why not spend the money used for Lethlabile, to put water and electricity in here?'' According to a feasibility study organized by the anti-apartheid Transvaal Rural Action Committee, this could be done for several million dollars. Overcrowding, says TRAC, could be alleviated by government purchase of fallow farmland nearby.
The government has, meanwhile, formally rescinded legal recognition of Oukasie. This means that all of its residents can be prosecuted under anti-squatter legislation. Some 4,000 residents - generally, the more affluent - have moved to Lethlabile. Their vacated houses were bulldozed to keep other residents from moving in.
This week Buys, other local residents, TRAC, and a group of white business representatives are scheduled to meet with government officials in a bid to win a reprieve for Oukasie. Buys is not hopeful. Scheduling meetings has been easy but keeping Oukasie won't be, he says.
Government officials have declined comment on the case. But local political analysts note that Brits is an area of strong white backlash against the series of gradual race-policy reforms announced by the government in the past few years. Right-wing strength seems to have been reinforced by an economic recession that has hit cities like Brits especially hard.
The local parliamentarian - a member of the ruling National Party - appears to be using the Oukasie move as a means of undercutting the right-wing challenge.
As the Oukasie conflict smolders, similar ``removals'' or population transfers are under way elsewhere. Among them:
Thousands of residents in the black towns of Langa and Soweto-By-The-Sea, near Uitenhage in the eastern Cape Province, have been moved to site-and-service plots in the development of KwaNobuhle - 10 miles from the city.
An estimated 70,000 residents of the Crossroads squatter city near Cape Town have been barred from returning after a virtual war earlier this year pitted antigovernment militants against rival vigilantes. There have been widespread local news media reports that the vigilantes were supported by South African police. Official investigations are under way.
Many of the ousted blacks relocated to makeshift dwellings in nearby woods. Others were moved to Khayelitsha, a government-built development for blacks about 20 miles from Cape Town.
The estimated 4,000 residents of Lawaaicamp, near a newly built highway bypass outside the city of George, have been given until Dec. 31 to move to the site-and-service development of Sandkraal, some 10 miles away.
Many of those who have moved to the new towns seem glad they did. In Lethlabile, signposts advertise white companies' readiness to build ``luxury homes'' - something few arrivals can afford. Blacks who had brick houses in Oukasie were compensated for leaving. ``I got 12,000 rands'' - about $5,000 - ``for a cinder-block house it cost me 500 rands to build,'' crows Sophie Moye, who is now building a 12-room brick home there. ``Oukasie was unhealthy,'' she adds.
Even Johannes Pelele - who lived in a corrugated-metal shack for which he got no compensation - figures he's made the right move. ``We have water, plumbing.'' He says the longer commute means getting up at 5:15 to head for work. But he has arranged a loan with a private company to build a small brick house.
So why the resistance to moving? Lethabile and Oukasie residents agree. Most of the holdouts are jobless. Some are technically citizens of tribal ``homelands'' set up under apartheid to define the black majority as a series of ethnic minorities; as such, they lack the right to live near cities despite the repeal of the pass laws.
``We don't have the money to build houses in Lethlabile,'' says Buys. ``Looking for work is hard enough here. But to be unemployed in Lethlabile is to be doomed. Besides,'' he says, ``we want our own township back.''
This report was filed under South Africa's emergency regulations, which prohibit reporters from being ``within sight'' of any unrest, any ``restricted gathering,'' or any ``police actions'' ; from reporting on arrests made under the emergency regulations; and from relaying information deemed subversive.