While the tragedy of apartheid in South Africa gets increasing media attention, the American press ignores its most devastating effects. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Peter Botha argues that his government has “come a long way” in granting independence to its black citizens.
The white-minority government in Pretoria created the “independent” black state of Transkei, in 1976, on the east coast of South Africa as part of its apartheid policy of separate political and economic development for blacks. Transkei, also known as the Homelands, is a virtual wasteland, incapable of sustaining its burgeoning population. The land is desert-like, harsh and arid, and the drought, considered the worst in Africa in 50 years, affects the Homelands more than the rest of the nation. The impact of the African drought, particularly in Ethiopia, has been well publicized, but Transkei’s tragedy has been kept secret by the South African government.
Transkei is ignored by black African nations; unrecognized as a state by the United Nations; and obscured by the United States. Nonetheless blacks are being deported there by the tens of thousands yearly as the Pretoria government attempts to further strip them of South African citizenship. As a result, the Homelands face a bleak future, for they have to rely on Pretoria for most of their economic assistance, a task that diminishes as the drought continues.
— South Africa “normally” produces 57% of the entire continent’s agricultural output; last year it had to import 1.5 million tons of grain to meet its economic needs, neglecting its starving citizens.
— Herds of cattle and sheep which once over-grazed the land, are now dying for lack of water.
— Water consumption increases yearly; while thousands of blacks die yearly in the Homelands, white residents of Johannesburg, the financial capitol, have to ration their lawn watering to once a week.
— The amount of land under cultivation has increased, but both black and white farmers overuse it, furthering the erosion of resources. — Blacks must obtain “permission” from local white authorities to work in urban areas, where jobs are most plentiful.
— Unemployed blacks are the hardest hit, for they are the primary targets of the Homelands policy.
— Pretoria over-emphasized the development of an industrial base in Transkei, leaving the arid countryside undeveloped and the growing population ill-prepared for the effects of the drought.
Unless immediate action is taken, the blacks forced into the Homelands surely will die. Starvation and malnutrition will claim the young and old first, and then work on the survivors. Finally, Pretoria won’t have to worry about world opinion anymore, for it will have achieved the ultimate goal of its separatist movement — genocide.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, 4/3/84, “S. African Blacks Struggle for Survival in Winter Recession,” and, 4/30/84,”S. African Relief Groups Find Better Ways to Combat Hunger,” both by Paul Van Slambrouck; NEW STATESMAN, 8/19/83, “South Africa: Drying Out,” by Philip Willan; U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 7/28/80, “Transkei: A Nation Only On the Map,” and, 8/22/83, “Another Deadly Famine Stalks Black Africa,” both by Robin Knight.