A STORY, filed from Johannesburg, in yesterday's paper told of the death of a man named Saul Mkhize -- a "conservative" black African, it was said, shot to death by police while he was protesting the forced removal of his people from their village to a relocation site thought more suitable for blacks. The circumstances of this killing are bound to generate much argument. Already a police spokesman has said that Mr. Mkhize, a 48-year-old accountant, was shot by police "in self-defense" because a riot was building. Some witnesses make quite different claims.

Probably this dispute as to the facts of the shooting will never be resolved. The white South African government is not famous, to put it mildly, for the plausibility of its various official findings as to how blacks have met violent death either at the hands of its police officers or while in their custody. But there is another issue here that does not require any boards of investigation or sworn testimony, one that is worth plucking out of the sad story of Mr. Mkhize and contemplating on its own. This is the issue that Mr. Mkhize was in fact protesting: the forced removal of thousands upon thousands of South African blacks to hovel-communities where the government has decided to dump them.

Read that part of the story as more than mere context, more than mere backdrop to a killing. It is its own separate -- and huge and continuing -- outrage. Driefontein had been the home of these particular black Africans since early in the century. It was evidently a productive, stable, independent farming community of around 5,000 people. The government, as it has with so many others, decided the community had to go, since it constituted a forbidden "black spot" in an officially white area. Mr. Mkhize, who worked in Johannesburg and came back to Driefontein on weekends, opposed the uprooting. So did others. It got them nowhere, of course. It got Mr. Mkhize killed.

It is important to remember that this sinister policy of forced relocation -- the hauling away of blacks, in trucks, from places where they may have been living for years to desolate camps where they may not want to go at all -- is proceeding without cease in South Africa. You hear a lot from the government and its defenders about the relatively small-step ameliorations it is making in the condition of some urban blacks. You do not hear from it about this carting off of whole populations to barren, so-called "homelands" -- "homelands" where they probably have never lived. That is apartheid in action. It is what the system is all about. And it is what must be changed before anyone can talk, with a straight face, of reform in South Africa.