From 1960 to 1983, the apartheid government forcibly moved 3.5 million black South Africans in one of the largest mass removals of people in modern history. There were several political and economic reasons for these removals. First, during the 1950s and 1960s, large-scale removals of Africans, Indians, and Coloureds were carried out to implement the Group Areas Act, which mandated residential segregation throughout the country. More than 860,000 people were forced to move in order to divide and control racially-separate communities at a time of growing organized resistance to apartheid in urban areas; the removals also worked to the economic detriment of Indian shop owners. Sophiatown in Johannesburg (1955-63) and District Six in Cape Town (beginning in 1968) were among the vibrant multi-racial communities that were destroyed by government bulldozers when these areas were declared "white." Blacks were forcibly removed to distant segregated townships, sometimes 30 kilometers (19 miles) from places of employment in the central cities. In Cape Town, many informal settlements were destroyed. In one incident over four days in 1985, Africans resisted being moved from Crossroads to the new government-run Khayelitsha township farter away; 18 people were killed and 230 were injured.
Second, African farm laborers made up the largest number of forcibly removed people, mainly pushed out of their jobs by mechanization of agriculture. While this process has happened in many other countries, in South Africa these rural residents were not permitted to move to towns to find new jobs. Instead, they were segregated into desperately poor and overcrowded rural areas where there usually were no job prospects.
Third, removals were an essential tool of the apartheid government’s Bantustan (or homeland) policy aimed at stripping all Africans of any political rights as well as their citizenship in South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were moved to resettlement camps in the bantustans with no services or jobs. The massive removals in the early 1960s to overcrowded, infertile places in the Eastern Cape such as Dimbaza, Ilinge, and Sada were condemned internationally. These were dumping grounds for Africans who were "superfluous to the labor market," as a 1967 government circular called them. Ultimately, these people were to become the responsibility of “independent” Bantustans so that the white regime would have no financial responsibility for the welfare of people there. Hundreds of thousands of other Africans were dispossessed of land and homes where they had lived for generations in what the government called “Black spots” in areas that the government had designated as part of “white” South Africa. Also, some entire townships were destroyed and their residents removed to just inside the borders of bantustans where they now faced long commutes to their jobs. By the 1980s, popular resistance to removals was widespread, and government plans to remove up to two million more people were never carried out.