As a four-color flag emblazoned with a "V" was hoisted at midnight Tuesday in the hilly northeast of South Africa, about half a million blacks lost their South African citizenship -- and took that of a state whose existence is being ignored by almost all the international community.
The declaration of the sovereign "independent" state of Venda was the latest step in the government's implementation of its internationally opposed policy of apartheid or separate development.
It is a policy at the conclusion of which there will be "no black South Africans," as former minister of information Cornelius Mulder once put it. Seven homelands remain to undergo the metamorphosis into "independent black states."
The 449,000 Venda-speaking people of South Africa, whose forefathers arrived in this troubled part of the African continent in the 12th century, have not joined the 4 million Xhosa speakers of Transkei and the 2 million Twanas of Bophuthatswana as "foreign blacks," as far as the South African government is concerned.
Transkei and Bophuthatswana achieved "independence" in 1976 and 1977. No country other than South Africa recognizes their existence. None is likely to recognize Venda.
The only foreign delegation attending Vendas's independence celebrations this week was from the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian government, which also is fighting for international recognition. Its presence is another indication of how Salisbury's foreign policy, despite the installation of a black-led government, continues to dovetail with that of South Africa.
The dismemberment of South Africa into one white and 10 independent black states -- whose present boundaries comprise only 13 percent of South African territory and none of its urban and industrial centers -- is the root political grievance of the majority of South Africa's 18 million blacks. They see it as a master scheme to prevent the white minority of 4 million from losing its political and economic control over this industrializing country that has been a unitary state since 1910.
South Africa is keenly aware that Venda occupies a strategic military position. As the closest "black state" to Mozamblique and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, it could provide access and a refuge for antigovernment South Agrican guerrillas.
The newly built airbase at Madimo in Venda will continue to be used by the South African Air Force and a six-mile-wide border area between Venda and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia is patrolled by South African soldiers to thwart infiltration.
The frustration of the blacks grows daily as they see the government pushing ahead to implement its apartheid plan despite their often voiced opposition.
In setting up these ethnically based autonomous regions, ruled by black political elites with newly acquired vested interests, Pretoria is creating allies against those who seek other political and economic changes, many blacks feel.
Blacks who see this happening are concerned that the West may eventually accept the homelands as a fait accompli. Nthato Motlana, the popular leader of the black suburb of Johannesburg, Soweto recently charged that the U.S. government has "accepted the inevitability and irreversibility of the evil they have done to our people in the so-called homelands. Their visitors come from the U.S. here" and are told "that the final scenario will look something like this."
Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha has indicated he intends to alter aspects of the apartheid setup. He speaks of a "constellation" of states whose details remain undeclared. The direction of his policy seems to be in that of a confederation, but that would be a phase to follow only after all 10 homelands are already "independent."
Botha also has established a committee to review the present boundaries of the homelands, which are now spread like Rorschach ink spots all over South Africa. The committee's report is due next March.
Homeland leaders have pleaded for more land, or at the very least, an integral territory. Venda, for example, is two separate blocks of land comprising a state nearly the size of Delaware. Botha apparently hopes to persuade more homeland leaders to accept "independence" by giving them more land. But this is unlikely to alter the position of most blacks who reject apartheid on principle.
Like his colleagues in the other homelands, Venda's president, Chief Patrick Mphephu, 53, calls to mind the emperor who wore no clothes -- his continuing economic dependence on South Africa makes his independence more of a mirage than a reality.
South Africa will provide $36.3 million for Mphephu's first budget of $43.6 million. Although Venda is fertile, most of the people are still subsistence farmers. It has to get 50 percent of its food, and all of its fuel, from South Africa.
The search for jobs draws 67 percent of the male work force to South Africa's urban areas and the situation is unlikely to improve soon. Venda would thus remain a source of "foreign" migratory labor for the white dominated economy in South Africa.
A report by an Afrikaans University estimated that to assure the sustained growth necessary for independence to be meaningful, Venda needs an investment of $117 million a year for the next 21 years -- hardly a sum Pretoria could provide.
Besides the economic dependence, those opposed to the apartheid-born states lament the South African-trained army and police forces of the new black states. "The black policemen are often worse to us than the whites," said one black.
The head of Venda's National Force, which includes its army and police, is a former South African security policeman. Like the two other independent homelands, Venda has retained laws that allow arbitrary detention without trails of those suspected of antigovernment activity.
From the viewpoint of the Afrikaners, the whites of Dutch descent who dominate the South African government, they are doing the blacks a favor by setting up these states. Many Afrikaners are genuinely confused by the outside world's criticism.
"We don't want half-baked paraplegic states trying to cope with a situation that is too big for them. We want strong nations," said a white official in Venda who declined to be named.
"They must find out for themselves what it means to grow politically, economically and socially and in the whole process we are here to guide them," he said.
In rural areas such as Venda there is some support for "independence" but most of the blacks who favor it are ignorant of the consequences for their citizenship status in South Africa. "We are happy about independence," said a hotel cleaning lady, "but we are confused about what it means."
Others who will profit from the bureaucracy that each new state will require also favor independence.
"Now blacks will have positions in administration and jobs they would never have gotten in South Africa," said a Venda-speaking police lieutenant who served for 15 years in the South African police force and was recently transferred to Venda.
Mphephu, who was pushing for independence, twice lost popular elections, in 1973 and 1978. Yet, he has managed to come out on top because of backing from the local chiefs who are nominated by him to fill the majority of the seats in the National Assembly under the Pretoria written Venda constitution.
After the 1978 election, when Mphephu gained only 11 of the 42 elected assembly seats and faced the possibility of not being selected chief minister, he detained 11 of the newly elected opposition members while the assembly voted him into the head position.
The Soutpansberg mountain range, which runs throught the 2,500 square miles that is Venda, offers some of the most beautiful views in South Africa. But the area is largely undeveloped. Venda's capital city of Thoyo-ya-ndou ("head of the elephant") has one paved street. Women walk barefoot along the main roads, bracelets dangling around their ankles, toting huge bundles of firewood and jugs of water.
Pretoria has built a modernistic legislative assembly building -- nicer than those in many African countries to the north -- complete with press and translators' galleries. For Mphephu, who has a fifth grade education, a lavish ministerial residence was constructed.
The elephant is Venda's national symbol, although there are no longer any elephants here, and its trumpeting at regular intervals heralds the broadcast of a news bulletin on Radio Venda.