To those familiar with the American South not so long ago, the sight might have brought to mind Billie Holliday's song, "Strange Fruit," But the black body hanging from a tree near a rural village in South Africa was not from a lynching. It was suicide.

Mosima William Sekole, about 50 years old, father of six, migrant laborer since 1956, was another victim, admittedly an extreme one, of apartheid.

According to his family, Sekole hanged himself after coming home to Makgato from Johannesburg to find his "big," seven-room home for which he had saved for years to build, razed. His family had moved to a new site 90 miles away.

The Sekoles are among the more than 2 million people the government has resettled since 1948 while trying to keep blacks and whites apart, according to public records. Approximately a million more, at a cost of $456 million, are still to be removed from "white" South Africa into one of the 10 black homelands, according to official figures. In this grand reshuffling, only 8,600 whites are being displaced.

Resettlement in most parts of the world carries with it optimistic connotations of improvement, but not in South Africa. Without being consulted, the resettled people, most of them too poor, frightened and apathetic to protest, have lost the security of their established communities. In many cases, gaining only minimal compensation from the government, they have lost their land, cattle, homes and jobs and are crammed into new settlements where shelter is a one-room tin or wooden hut or just a tent. It often adds up to becoming refugees in the land of their birth.

At the moment, major resettlement schemes are in a sort of limbo because of Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha's decision to allocate more land to the black homelands and to begin a limited rewriting of South Africa's constitutional organization. Black Affairs Minister Pieter Koornhof has stopped or slowed down several publicity-attracting resettlement projects.

But removals of isolated black families from "white" areas is still proceeding, especially in Natal Province, according to a concerned citizens' group there.

In conjunction with the "pass" system that keeps blacks out of white-controlled cities, and migratory labor program, resettlement allows the white minority, through its government bureaucracy, to maintain absolute control of where blacks live and where they sell their labor.

As far as blacks are concerned, the system rests on a greedy and arrogant decision by whites to control 87 percent of South Africa assigning blacks to the 13 percent of the country's land with little of its industrial, mineral and urban wealth.

Black spokesmen such as Angelican Bishop Desmond Tuty have demanded an unequivocal promise from the government to stop resettlements, but that is unlikely.

For the resettlements to cease, or for the immense overcrowding of the black homelands to be rectified would require a major political change by the whites to a system of common citizenship and freedom for all South African citizens to live and work where they please.

Rather, the most hopeful sign from the government so far, besides Botha's overhaul of homeland boundaries, is a dawning recognition that it must provide greater encouragement to business to bring industrial development and jobs to the rural areas.

Meanwhile, churches and concerned citizens' groups are turning more of their attention lately to the plight of these people and to what some social researchers regard as a potentially explosive situation in what one of them called South Africa's "rural disaster."

Underpinning resettlement has been the assumption that the people, now under the jurisdiction of their homeland governments, would be cared for by those authorities. How they are supposed to do this when they have neither the industrial base to offer jobs nor land to allocate for farming, nor the revenue to set up adequate welfare, educational and nutritional programs, has been largely overlooked by planners in Pretoria.

By taking the burden of these people off the central government and shifting it to the homeland leaders, "it is quite clear what is happening," wrote South African reporter John Kane Berman. "The haves are gradually being divested of their financial responsibilities to the have-nots."

Adding steam to the pressure cooker in rural areas is the government's decision last year, in an attempt to keep the urban black population fully employed, to close loopholes in labor regulations that had allowed many rural blacks to find "illegal" jobs in the big cities. The result is to "export" unemployment from cities to the homelands, which have already become vast labor pools for the white-dominated economy.

Because resettlement usually means a longer distance to travel to work, breadwinners in these families often face a dilemma. Either they quit and live with their family, or keep their jobs and live in single-sex hostels. They usually choose the latter, thus extending the migrant labor system.

"It remains to be seen how the [homeland] governments will cope with the time bomb of bitterness and frustrations those concentrations of landless people could become," wrote researcher Margaret Nash in a report on resettlements for the South African Council of Churches.

Another researcher, Gerry Mare, noted that twice in recent months, police stations in white areas near resettlement spots were targets for action by antigovernment black guerrillas. Mare indicated concern that there might be increased political repression in these black areas to bottle up the anger and frustration.

Last year, one of the most effective strick actions by blacks since 1970 came out of the Ezekheni resettlement area in Kwazulu. Black workers there, many of them earning less than $20 a week, refused to ride the public buses to protest a fare increase. They walked more than 30 miles a day for four weeks and brought the fares down.

But usually resettled communities are to steeped in depression to make any protest, according to social workers who deal with them. Sekole is an example of that.

Government officials, who maintain that all resettled people are moved voluntarily, say that the Sekole family moved of its own free will. They also say the family was given $3,894 in compensation for the demolished home. But the shock of the destruction, which took place while Sekole was at his job in Johannesburg, sent him into a depression his nephew, Solly Maepe, said in a telephone interview.

Besides their personal family tragedy, resettlement for the Sekoles has meant leaving a village they lived in for 16 years. Because of Sekoles suicide, his family was offered a home in an urban township in the black reserve of Lebowa instead of being forced to go to the resettlement area they were destined for. Their new home is two rooms smaller than the one demolished by the government and since it is in an urban area, they had to leave behind the two horses and five cows they owned.

Through an interpreter Mrs. Sekole said that her husband spent $7,916 building his home, yet she got only $3,894 in compensation from the government. bThe house she now lives in will cost her $6,000 to buy, she said.

Mrs. Sekole also said that contrary to government claims she was not moving voluntarily from her original home.

The helplessness felt by many resettled people is often reflected in the language.

"to the government, I am just a stone, madam," said Mantayi Dyaloyi, who claims he is 90 years old. "They pick me up and move me and I say nothing because I cannot." Dyaloyi was recently resettled into the Ciskei.

But George Ramokgopa, chief of the Batlokwa people, is not a stone. He is vocally resisting government efforts to have his 45,000 tribespeople moved to the Lebowa homelane in the northern Transvaal Province. His home is built on the top of huge boulders in a village of smoothwalled, brightly colored clay huts that abut one another in a friendly, attractive jumble. His shady elevated veranda offers an exquisite view for miles across the land and rivers where his people have lived for 200 years.

Inside his living room is the piano he occasionally plays, a wall switch to turn on the overhead electric lights and a portrait of himself as a baby, surrounded by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather who began the settlement.

"Do you think the government will compensate me adequately for all this?" he asks with a sweep of his arm. "They are trying to make us move in a trickish way."

"We would be very sad. Maybe they want us to move because we are too close to the Cape Cairo Road," he said referring to the nearby highway going north to Rhodesia. "Maybe we are just in the way."

"Being in the way" may be how many blacks feel about resettlements. But more importantly, the resettlement issure, as Nash the researcher, states it, goes to the heart of the basic struggle of South Africa: "To use, occupy or control land is to have power . . . That is the fundamental issue in the power struggle between black and white in southern Africa. To share the land means to share power and to strive to live peaceably with one another. To deny right of access to the land to any group is to make war against them."