Forcing people to live in separate racial areas of South Africa was the driving piece of apartheid’s “separate development” policy. The pockets of the Black population that lived among and near White city centers were called “Black spots” and the government actively worked to clean them out. During the 1950s and 1960s the first “forced removals” occurred after the passing of the Group Areas Act established these racial areas. More than 860,000 people were forcibly removed as a way to divide and control racially separate communities as resistance grew towards apartheid policies (23). Sophiatown of Johannesburg and District Six of Cape Town are just two examples of vibrant multi-racial communities that were destroyed by South African government bulldozers once they were deemed “White” areas (24).
Between 1960 and 1983, over 3.5 million South Africans were forcibly removed (25) and until 1984 another 1.7 million were under threat of removal (26). Blacks were removed to distant segregated townships, sometimes 30 kilometers away from places of employment in the central towns and cities (27). As a result ‘informal settlements’ formed as shantytowns closer to places of work, but many were destroyed. Farm laborers were also displaced by mechanized agricultural. As a result farm laborers were segregated into desperately poor and overcrowded rural areas and were not permitted to travel to towns to find new jobs (28).
Removals represented the “essential tool” for apartheid to work. Creation of the Bantustans stripped Black South Africans of all legal rights in South Africa and their welfare was no longer the problem of the South African government. Hundreds of thousands of other Blacks were dispossessed of land and homes where they had lived for generations in these “Black spots” now designated as part of “White” South Africa. Entire townships were destroyed and their residents removed to just inside the borders of Bantustans where they now faced long commutes to their jobs (29).
In other words, removal of people is not simply a physical act; it is part of a process and a strategy that seeks to push increasing numbers of South Africa’s people into ever more remote and inhospitable areas where, broken and fragmented by the experience of removal and all that it means, people are left to exist under conditions of increasing apathy and powerlessness (30).
One UN report on the forced removals noted, “that the demolition was executed in total disregard for the health and well-being of every individual concerned, in the most inhumane manner” (31). The forced removals created poverty situations where the infertile Bantustan lands had to sustain an overcrowded population. This policy of removal, coupled with the apartheid policies on health services in Bantustans and for Black medical training, shows the dire health effects on the Black population. These terrible health conditions later translate into environments easily susceptible to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
23. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
25. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
26. “The uprooting of millions, forced removals.” For their Triumphs’ and Tears. ANC, 1983.
27. “Forced removals” South Africa: Overcoming apartheid, building democracy. MSU African Studies Center.
30. J Yawitch, Betterment. “The myth of homeland agriculture” SAIRR: Johannesburg, 1981, p.86.
31. ‘Forced removals in South Africa 1977-1978’, paper prepared by IDAF for the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, No. 44/78, Oct. 1978, p.9.
Coming next: High-Risk Migration Patterns