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The end of the 1980s saw the collapse of apartheid's "homelands", the puppet regimes in the Ciskei and Transkei, converted to military regimes which seemed for a time (in 1990-91) to be encouraging genuine democratization and re-incorporation of their territories into the mainstream of South African political life. However, as Leslie Bank and Janet Cherry explain, these regimes have come to play rather more contradictory - if very different - roles in the wider politics of transition that now defines the South African situation. JV

vol 9 no 1

A tale of two homelands - Transkei, Ciskei
Janet Cherry and Leslie Bank

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 9, No 1, July 1993
Page 25
"South Africa "



The end of the 1980s saw the collapse of apartheid's puppet regimes in the Ciskei and Transkei, the "homelands" designated for the supposed "self-rule" of the Xhosa-speaking population of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. In the place of the Matanzimas and Sebes, there emerged military regimes which seemed for a time (in 1990-91) to be encouraging genuine democratization and the relatively straightforward reincorporation of their territories into the mainstream of South African political life. However, as Leslie Bank and Janet Cherry (both of South Africa's Rhodes University) explain below, these regimes have come to play rather more contradictory - if very different - roles in the wider politics of transition that now defines the South African situation.


The Transkei: The Long Road to Democracy

After the fall of the ruling Matanzima family in September 1987, and Stella Sigcau's brief 12 weeks as premier, Major-General Bantu Holomisa of the Transkei Defence Force took control in December 1987 on an `anti-corruption ticket'. He began by combining his battle against corruption with a ban on the "propagation of political ideologies" and the detention and trial of ANC and PAC members; for these actions he received the cautious support of the South African government. Yet Holomisa proved himself to be alert to the deeper sea changes that were occurring in South African society: within two years he had declared that he had long been a supporter of the liberation movements and that he would not hesitate to reverse Transkeian "Independence" if the people of the region were found to be in favour of such a move.

The first issue Holomisa's was forced to address was the appalling lack of protection given to Transkeian workers under the old regime. In October, 1989, for example, 10,000 workers marched in Umtata, demanding new labour laws and the granting of full trade union rights in the homeland. Holomisa's response was to scrap much of the old labour law and, soon, to grant trade unions, including the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), the freedom to organize. Even more dramatic were the lifting of the state of emergency, the releasing of large numbers of political prisoners, a promise to review Transkeian security legislation, and the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC.

Thus, between November 1989 and January 1990, Holomisa appeared on political platforms alongside ANC leaders - Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa - and was congratulated by them, on these occasions, for his progressive reforms. Representatives of the Military Council also met with PAC leaders in Tanzania (eventually arousing the ire of Pretoria by actually allowing a relative freedom of operation to the armed wings of both the ANC and the PAC). Moreover, such initiatives were linked with an attempt to rout the old Matanzima and Transkei National Independence Party influences in government and to transform the political culture of the administration. Holomisa spoke out strongly on the need for a "clean administration." These various steps have begun radically to transform the nature of politics in this region with, at present, the Transkei government being clearly aligned with the ANC in the negotiations' process.

In short, while the Ciskei under Gqozo's rule has slipped backwards in recent years (see accompanying box), Holomisa's regime in the Transkei has seemed to be seeking a way forward, utilizing the slogans of liberation and democratization. At the same time attempts to gently nudge the Transkei along the path of greater freedom and democracy have not been without their contradictions.

Chiefs and civics

The most central contradiction springs from the fact that, even though the security forces have been trimmed and some ANC and PAC figures have been elevated to top government positions, the basic structure and the personnel of local administration remains the same. The vast majority of the Transkei's population lives in rural villages or peri-urban areas that fall under the control of chiefs and headmen who are organized into tribal and regional authorities. The chain of tribal command extends upwards from sub-headman at the bottom to Paramount chief at the top. This system of power, authority, and control in rural areas has been an instrument of political domination and repression in the Transkei since the colonial days. It has been premised on the denial of the democratic rights of rural people.

The Holomisa government has not changed this system since coming to power, although it has removed a number of repressive chiefs and has definitely created the political space for their authority to be challenged. As in the Ciskei, the organizations which have filled this space have been the "civics." These community-based organizations have spread through the rural areas like wildfire since 1990. In many villages, the youth have been particularly instrumental in initiating civic structures. But they have been joined by workers, teachers, traders and others in their demands for a more democratic and accountable system of local government. The clashes between civics and chiefs have not been abstractly ideological, however, but rather have turned on such practical matters as the allocation of land and development resources.

Civics have also challenged the way in which chiefs administer their villages. For instance, they have lashed out at the systematic corruption and bribery of village life and the uncooperative approach of chiefs and headmen when it comes to helping people acquire pensions and other services. They have also demanded that chiefs consult more widely before they embark on new development projects. In the Xalanga district, where chiefly powers were widely abused during the Matanzima era, civic leaders have joined together to form a united front called the Xalanga Campaigns Action Committee (XCAC) to bring the alleged abuse of tribal power to the attention of the Holomisa government. Throughout 1992, XCAC convened meetings and sent petitions to the government. In July 1992, a government delegation was sent to meet with XCAC but failed to come up with any solutions to their basic grievances. By the end of 1992, XCAC members were disillusioned and were seeking new strategies that the Holomisa government could not ignore.

The intense conflict between civic leaders and chiefs in Xalanga was less evident in other districts, where chiefs were not so closely associated with the Matanzima regime. In parts of Pondoland and other deep rural areas, chiefs remain the unquestioned leaders of their communities, have actively engaged in struggles against land expropriation and removal, and have even become actively involved in the civic movement themselves. Nonetheless, despite the considerable variation in arrangements on the ground, escalating tension between civic structures and traditional authorities has been a key feature of Transkeian politics over the past three years, a pattern reinforced by the hardships produced by drought and rising unemployment (especially in the mines) for would-be migrants. Rising conflict with the tribal authorities was inevitable as rural people tried to cope with hunger and frustration: on tight rural budgets, it is not surprising that people have lost patience with chiefly corruption and mismanagement of resources.

Squatters and town councils

One of the consequences of the deteriorating conditions in the Transkei countryside has been the phenomenal numbers of former migrants now flocking into Transkeian towns, becoming shack dwellers and creating - especially in Butterworth and Umtata but also elsewhere - a "squatter problem" of dramatic proportions. This influx of the marginalized rural poor into small towns has proven to be a nightmare for the local Town Councils which, throughout the Matanzima era, had been notorious for their corruption. After "Independence" they received very little by way of financial assistance from the state to maintain and expand already dismally inadequate levels of urban services. Moreover, such housing projects as were initiated in the 1980s were for the "middle income groups;" there were none for lower income groups. In short, when the squatters arrived in the 1990s - often merely seizing land on town commonage, for example, - they were able to work with various youth organizations and civics, but the town councils were unprepared to deal with them.

Lack of housing development, of provision of water (an even more emotive issue than housing), and the like: it is such issues that have focused popular attention on the role of town councils in the Transkei. Residents feel, increasingly, that the councils are corrupt and calls for their resignations have reverberated through Transkeian towns. Like the chiefs, the councillors have not accepted their plight lying down, and certainly there have also been cases were councillors have been unfairly accused of mis-management and corruption. In some of these latter cases, the newly elected civic and the old councillors have actually come together to address the root cause of their problems. In doing so, however, they have tended to reach the same conclusion as that reached by people in the rural areas: that they have been "had" by the Department of Local Government and Land Tenure and that the Holomisa government is not doing enough to rectify the situation.

In short, by creating the political space for oppositional forces to operate (and by being unable to deliver any real solution to fundamental economic problems) Holomisa finds that he has opened up his administration to severe criticism. Paradoxically, however, his government's response to such criticism has tended to be the upholding of existing structures. When town councils are forced to resign, for example, they are being replaced by Umtata-appointed administrators, suggesting that, despite calls for "negotiated development," things continue to be decided unilaterally.

Here then - as in the rural areas - the central contradiction of Holomisa's regime is illustrated: he claims to be democratizing even as the old power structures of the bantustans remain in place. Tribal and regional authorities of the past have been left virtually untouched by the Military Council; and even though chiefs and headmen have been encouraged to join Contralesa (the ANC-aligned Congress of Traditional Leaders) and have been advised to cut out bribery and corruption they are not obliged to follow these directives. Similarly, local authorities (such as town councils) are told to be "sympathetic" to the needs of the people and to behave in a "responsible and democratic manner" - but again without the creation of mechanisms that might compel the relevant officials to abide by these directives or make them more accountable for their actions.

In short, Holomisa's reform programme has been sufficiently aggressive to raise popular expectation and insufficiently thorough-going to deliver any real changes in the everyday life of ordinary Transkeians. Lennox Sebe once said, in a rare humanitarian moment, that Ciskeians "could not eat flags and constitutions." Many in the Transkei are beginning to realize that life on Holomisa's diet of liberation slogans and rhetoric is no more nutritious. There is now widespread questioning as to what "political liberation" actually means in the Transkei.


It is in this context that the poor are beginning to take matters into their own hands. It has been conventional to argue that such "counter-revolutionary potential" as exists in a place like the Transkei springs from the fact of its bloated apartheid bureaucracy. This must necessarily be trimmed as the territory is re-incorporated into South Africa proper, Middle-class elements (those who will then be left without a state apparatus to manipulate in pursuit of profits) are then likely to become disaffected, it has been suggested, and to organize a "counter-revolution" against the transitional process as led by the mass democratic movement. But while this was one plausible reading of the political situation in the Transkei in 1990, it is no longer valid.

To be sure there are many civil servants in the Transkeian bureaucracy who fear for their jobs and stand little chance of getting placements in the new South Africa. But while some of these individuals have withdrawn into their shells, many others have changed political sides and have actually become active in the ANC - and there can be little doubt that they have been pleased at the extent to which the liberation movement has been prepared to absorb them into its ranks. In fact, this shift in support has led the middle class into the civic movements and into positions of prominence within the newly emerging political dispensation. "Transition," in many areas, has begun to take the form of an alliance between the better educated youth and the middle class - with the very real risk that the interests of squatters and the poor are being submerged, both within the civics and within the broader polity.

Thus, as civics move towards negotiated settlements - both to enhance their own credibility and (they argue) to provide some of the services they have promised the people, it looks more and more like they are being co-opted and the real interests of the poor neglected. As one squatter in Cala remarked: "They do not feel the pain." But what if any such negotiated partnership - between the councillors, civic leaders and the state - does not, in fact, address the aspirations of the poor who have now learnt the politics of liberation and have witnessed the power of mass politics and demonstration? Isn't it quite possible that any counter-revolution - any resistance, that is, to the terms of the currently emerging transition to a "democratic South Africa" - will then be led from the peri-urban areas and from the squatter camps where the needs are so great?

What would be the possible consequences of this kind of popularly-based "counter-revolution," one so very different from the middle-class variant discussed above? On the one hand, one might hope to find the poor increasingly taking over the emerging democratic structures such as civic organizations, finding new space to participate in decision-making, and thereby ensuring a really thorough-going democratization in the region. On the other hand, the outcome of this process of structural decay and further marginalization of a large percentage of the population might merely be an increasing instability in impoverished rural areas. Already one clear trend is the rise of "social banditry," expressed in attacks on vehicles driving through the Transkei, stock theft and arson, and destruction of buildings. In addition, the more militant-sounding politics of the PAC - finding expression in such actions as sit-ins that have rendered some local government structures non-functional - are finding resonance with the poor in many areas of the Transkei.

It is true, of course, that political violence within the Transkei itself has been at a low level since Holomisa's "conversion" to the cause of liberation; only 3 deaths occurred due to political violence in the period between June 1990 and June 1992. However, violence has spilled over the borders of the Transkei into nearby white farming areas, with stock theft and arson attacks being interpreted by some as signs of land hunger linked to political motivations. Moreover, conflict around land ownership in the area is likely to be an ongoing phenomenon, and here too the PAC has generated some support in the Transkei and Border regions - through use of its slogan of `One settler, one bullet' and its focus on reclaiming the land for the dispossessed.

Towards reincorporation

As is well known, the war of words between the government and Holomisa over his provision of support and "bases" for the PAC's armed wing, APLA, has heated up over the past few months. Contributing to this have been the blockade of the Transkei border by South African security a month ago, Holomisa's disclosure of the Ciskei coup plan (Operation Katzen), and his refusal to have Transkei investigated by the Goldstone Commission on Violence. Holomisa's blustering and belligerence is no doubt aimed at building his legitimacy, not only with the liberation movements, but with the residents of Transkei who may not yet be convinced that they are indeed living in a "new South Africa."

Of course, some of the heat will be taken out of this immediate confrontation as the South African government proceeds with the "reincorporation" of the former "independent" homelands. For there seems little doubt that if the national negotiations process advances as planned, all citizens of South Africa, whether living in "independent" or "non-independent" homelands, will vote in the forthcoming elections for a nation-wide constituent assembly. Holomisa's clever opportunism has been based on a shrewd realization that his bread is buttered on the ANC side; while retaining no hopes of being a "ruler" in the new South Africa (he has recently been quoted as saying that his "biggest regret" is "to find myself running a country"), he may envisage a future for himself occupying a high position in the new South African Defence Force. But even if Holomisa - and, indeed, the Transkei itself, at least as it has been formally constituted in recent years - were to pass from the local scene, the dilemmas of local governance described in this article will remain for any successor regime (including an ANC- dominated central government). As we have hinted, the ANC already runs the risk - like Holomisa before it - of being absorbed into one or another structure of established privilege in the Transkei. Might it, in consequence, miss the opportunity of grounding itself firmly in a political process of genuine popular empowerment there? Time alone will tell. For the moment one must conclude that the question as to just what kind of democratization the current transition actually promises for the Transkei remains an open one.


The Ciskei: Following Buthelezi's Path?

If the Transkei's Holomisa has, on balance, decided to go with flow of current democratic developments in South Africa (see accompanying story), the Ciskei's Oupa Gqozo has chosen quite a different course. Holomisa was already in the process of aligning himself with the ANC when the Ciskei experienced a military coup of its own on 4 March 1990. Brigadier Gqozo's initial accession to power was welcomed by most residents of the area; the majority of Ciskeians had a deep antipathy to corrupt and repressive "bantustan" rule, and a tradition of support for the ANC and other liberation movements. At the time, it was anticipated that the new military government would follow in the footsteps of the Transkei's Holomisa and not only lift all restrictions on political expression and organization, but also develop a close relationship with the liberation movements.

And "Oupa" did begin his rule in a conciliatory manner, wooing ANC leaders, introducing a Bill of Rights, abolishing the death penalty, ending the "headman" system and granting favourable dispensations to squatter communities. For much of 1990, in what is now referred to as the "Bisho Spring," civic organizations, trade unions and political organizations set up organizational structures across the bantustan, and it still seemed possible that Gqozo would become a progressive force in the region.

As grassroots movements swelled and support for the now unbanned ANC grew in the Ciskei, however, `Oupa' changed his tune. He reversed his position on squatters, and reimposed the "headman" system in villages in July 1991, generating enormous localized conflict. And he made an about-turn as regards the ANC. His suppression of political opposition now included the reimposition of a State of Emergency, the banning of all residents' associations, and the use of the Ciskei Defence Force against striking workers. This resulted in a predictable backlash among the highly politicized population. The ANC's mass action campaign demanded reincorporation of the Ciskei, democratic rule and free political activity, the ultimate result of this clash of wills being the now infamous Bisho massacre of September 1992, in which 29 people were mowed down.

Indeed, activists in the region now fear that Gqozo's "African Democratic Movement" is seeking to play the same wrecker's role as Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party in Natal. On 27 October last year Jackson Lufefe, an executive member of the ANC's border region, was assassinated by men claiming to be ADM members and other such assassinations have taken place locally in the past few years. The spread of political violence to an area which was largely peaceful is disturbing; according to the Human Rights Trust, 16 deaths due to political violence occurred in the Ciskei up to June 1992, largely around demonstrations demanding reincorporation into South Africa; from July to October the total (including the Bisho massacre) shot up to 75. The fear is that where there is no substantial existing opposition to the ANC, such divisions are being created or provoked by a `Third force' in order to destabilize the region and undermine the ANC's strong position. The role of the South African government and security forces in this process is, as yet, unclear; but the recent revelations about the government's "Operation Katzen" indicate that their intention to depose Sebe a few years back was probably designed to instigate just such a counter-revolutionary backlash.

Perhaps it was, in part, because he was shaken by this threat from the South African state that Gqozo decided to shift his politics rightwards. What is clear, in any case, is that he has now become a law unto himself: intent on preserving his position through using the Ciskei security forces and the ADM, closing off avenues for peaceful political activities, and resisting reincorporation of the Ciskei into South Africa proper except on his own terms. He has brought the Ciskei government into COSAG (the Concerned South Africans Group), an alliance of the Conservative Party, the government of Bophutatswana and Kwazulu/the IFP - all of whose leaders are participating in the negotiations process with a view to retaining as much of their power as possible in "quasi-independent" or "federal" states, as sanctioned, they intend, within a new constitutional dispensation. Although not necessarily hostile itself to such "federalist" intentions, even the present South African government has found the extreme position of Gqozo's regime an embarrassment. Thus, on 7 May, the Ciskei together with the Conservative party were the only two parties in the negotiation process to refuse to sign the declaration of intent by which all parties agreed to set an election date within a month. Moreover Gqozo has adamantly refused to co-operate with the National Peace Accord.

Within the Ciskei itself the gap left by Gqozo's suppression of political organization has, at least momentarily, discomfited the ANC and even facilitated an upsurge of support for the PAC - marked by, among other things, an increase in the number of attacks conducted in the nearby Border area by the latter's armed wing, APLA. Moreover, as repression in the Ciskei continues, the living conditions for the majority of landless, workless inhabitants of this impoverished area continue to deteriorate. Eighty per cent of the Ciskei's budget comes from Pretoria; 90% of households have no land or else plots far too small for subsistence; only 23% of the land is free from erosion, while 50% is moderately or severely eroded; 40% of the male population are migrants to `white' South Africa, and they bring in 67% of the GNP; the average monthly income of Ciskei "citizens" is R 83.

Certainly, the erstwhile cosy relationship between the bantustan governments and Pretoria no longer exists and, as with the Transkei, the Ciskei's reincorporation is inevitable. But Pretoria seems at a loss as to how to deal with Gqozo who, despite a changing context, has reverted to many of the policies and strategies of the Sebe era. Gqozo's attempt - in the limited time he has left with the levers of power in his hands - to assert himself may be a vain one, but the fact remains that, like Gatsha Buthelezi, he can still inflict a considerable amount of damage on the transition process. And the stark legacy of his present actions can only exacerbate the daunting difficulties that face any successor regime in dealing with the Ciskei's underdevelopment.

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