UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



The Bantustans were rather more than simply “puppet regimes”, and one of the singular features of post-apartheid South Africa is the extent to which the spatial and institutional legacies of Bantustans survive in contemporary South Africa. The institution of a tribal authority is not newly created in South Africa as a whole. It has existed and worked hand in hand with former governments in South Africa for almost a century. In the former British colonial government and the Union Government of South Africa, this institution served as part of the managerial mechanism in rural areas, in the administrative system commonly known as indirect rule. During the era of apartheid, from the late 1940s onwards, the institution of tribal authorities served as the local government in various homelands.

The traditional authorities in the Bantustans of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei seemed to be used by the apartheid regime and were no longer accountable to their communities but to the apartheid regime. The Bantustans' governments passed various pieces of legislation to control the institution of traditional leadership, exercised control over traditional leaders and allowed them minimal independence in their traditional role. The pattern of the disintegration of traditional leadership seemed to differ in Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei. The governments of these Bantustans used different political, constitutional and legal practices and methods to achieve this disintegration.

More often than not these traditional institutions were mere puppet institutions operating on behalf of the Bantustan regime, granted token or limited authority within the Bantustan in order to extend the control of the Bantustan government and to curb possible anti-apartheid and anti-Bantustan-system revolutionary activity within traditional areas. South African law divided the population into four major categories: Africans, whites, coloreds, and Asians. In South Africa, the term “black" embraced Africans, coloreds, and Asians. The Africans (72% of the population) are mainly descendants of Sotho and Nguni peoples who migrated southward centuries ago. They were subdivided into 10 groups corresponding to the 10 ethnically based “homelands", called national states by South Africa. By 1985 four were considered independent only by South Africa:, Transkei, Venda, Ciskei, and Bophuthatswana. The largest African ethnic groups, according to 1980 esti- mates, were Zulu (6.0 million) and Xhosa (5.8 million).

Since the Nationalist Party, the party of the Afrikaners, came to power in 1948, the government pursued a policy of racial separation and discrimination known as apartheid. Only whites had political power. The entire edifice of laws and regulations preserve white supremacy through job reservation for whites, residential and educa- tional segregation, inferior black education, and a pass-law system that permits Africans to live in urban areas only if they work for whites. Political organization by blacks has been ruthlessly suppressed; even black trade unions are not permitted.

The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and South Africa's growing isolation from the rest of the world forced the government to hasten its steps to implement separate development as a means of justifying its policies to the rest of the world and removing blacks not needed as laborers from white South Africa. The government determined to create Bantu homelands (Bantustans) to serve as the designated areas of the various African tribes of South Africa. Ten Bantustans were established, varying in size and administrative development from the Transkei, the largest, least scattered, and prepared to become independent on October 26, 1976 — to South Ndebele, a tiny fragment of land with no administrative organization.

The Bantustans together comprised only 13 percent of the total land area of South Africa; the remaining 87 percent was to remain under white control. Initially there were 113 separate fragments of land, to be consolidated at some future time to thirty-six. At that time KwaZulu, the homeland for the four million Zulus, would consist of ten separate fragments. Two separate states of five fragments contained the 3,950,000 Xhosa speakers. Six fragments made up the Bantustan of Bophuthatswana for the 1,720,000 Tswanas.

South Africa planned to give these ten Bantustans complete independence, although only the Transkei had been given a definite timetable for this transition. The Bantustan policy is the intellectual creation of the Nationalist Party, on the theory that South Africa is a multinational country, not a multi-racial one. There has never been any referendum to determine whether Africans or even whites want Bantustans. Sharing political power with Africans is an anathema to Afrikaners. In their view, separate development permited blacks to have their own political system apart from the whites, whose power over the remaining part of South Africa will be left unchallenged. In reality the Afrikaners saw quite clearly that with their total population numbering just a bit over 2 million they cannot share political power with 20 million non-whites without quickly losing their hold on the government. Thus the Bantustan policy enables the Afrikaners to fragment the non-white groups and push them out into homelands where they cannot challenge white power. The anticipated end result is a residual South Africa in which the whites are in the majority.

Experienced observers in South Africa readily pointed out a number of what they considered to be fatal flaws in the policy of separate development. Even the enlightened (verligte) segment of Afrikaner intellectuals themselves admit some of these flaws and profess concern over whether the pace of change has overtaken separate development. However, officials of the South African Government showed no sign of rethinking separate development, but instead are pushing ahead with its implementation.

The homelands policy had no provision for the 2.3 million coloured people of mixed race who live primarily in Cape Province, and the 700,000 Asians, who lived largely in Natal. Both groups were highly urbanized, yet they have neither rights in the white towns nor hope of a traditional homeland. A commission of inquiry into the condition of the coloured people, under the chairmanship of an Afrikaner woman sociologist, recommended widespread changes for the coloured population, but some of the most significant of these proposals were rejected by the Vorster government.

Second, and most serious, it is noted that the homelands policy did not deal with the situation of urban Africans who live outside the homelands and comprise between one-half and two-thirds of the total population. These people continued to have no rights or power in white South Africa. In theory urban Africans should belong to the homeland of their language group, even if they were not born in the homeland and have no ties there. Urban Africans now have no "right" to be in urban areas unless employed, and are sent back to their tribal areas if they lose their jobs. Under the homelands policy their situa- tion would worsen because they would ultimately lose their South African citizenship, and become foreign migrant laborers in their own country. Thus it is not surprising that there is widespread hostility to the homelands policy among urban blacks.

The extent to which the government was prepared to force the Bantustan policy on an unwilling population was demonstrated by a government move that threatened serious friction between South Africa and the Transkei, which is on the vergre of independence. The South African Government announced that the 1.3 million Xhosa who live outside the Transkei will be considered Transkei citizens on 26 October 1976, the date of Transkei's independence. Chief Matanzima, Transkei's Prime Minister, rejected this declaration and has stated that the Xhosa in South Africa are the responsibility of the South African Government.

During 1984, the permanence of an urban black population outside the homelands was recognized in several official government statements. Early in 1985, State President Pieter Willem Botha announced that the possibility of a common South African citizenship to include all blacks would be investigated. The practical meaning and extent of these pronouncements remained to be clarified.

The third major flaw which observers point out with regard to the Bantustan policy concerns the fragmented and economically weak character of these entities. Former Prime Minister Verwoerd was opposed even to foreign investment or white settlement in the homelands, but this view was ultimately rejected as unrealistic. Nevertheless, the Bantustans remain economic backwaters, and serve chiefly as pools of unskilled labor for white South Africa. Agri- culture is the main economic activity of the homelands, with virtually no industry and very little mining. The most valuable mineral areas and much of the best farmlands have carefully been left in white South Africa.

In 1950 the government had appointed the Tomlinson Commission to investigate the socioeconomic role of Blacks and the development of their assigned areas. The commission had reported to the government in 1956 that self-governing territories for the Black African population would not be economically feasible without a massive program aimed at agricultural self-sufficiency and creation of jobs. Little was done, however, to improve the primitive economies of the homelands in spite of the fact that, under Verwoerd's leadership, the objective of independent homelands became a central feature of apartheid or "separate development," as the government had redesignated its racial policy.

Under Verwoerd the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 had designated eight (later ten) national units based on Black cultural and ethnic groupings and pointed the way to the transfer of legislative powers to these units. By the early 1980s The Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and Venda — corrupt authoritarian appendages of the South African state — had been declared independent. Other homelands, under the watchful eyes of the Reagan administration, were being prepared for this inglorious limbo.

After Vorster became prime minister of South Africa, the impetus toward self-government for the remaining homelands intensified. The Bantu Homelands Constitution Act of 1971 gave the government the legal basis for the staged evolution of all the homelands from territorial authorities to limited internal self-government, possessing legislative assemblies of partially elected and partially appointed tribal representatives on the Transkei model.

A total of eight homelands had established legislative assemblies by the end of 1972, and in 1974 negotiations over Transkeian independence began. KwaZulu, Lebowa, Gazankulu, and the other smaller units resisted prodding by the Pretoria government to follow Transkei's lead, fearing the independence would be meaningless in view of their heavily fragmented territories (Lebowa was divided into thirteen units and KwaZulu into forty-four in 1975), the fragility of their economies, and their lack of revenue sources. The possible loss of South African citizenship and residence rights made the issue of independent homelands especially objectionable to Blacks living and working in urban South Africa.

In the early 1970s cooperation increased among the homeland leaders, although they remained divided over the issue of whether to accept independence for their territories. Even Chief Matanzima, hitherto considered South Africa's puppet, joined the others in bargaining with the government in Pretoria and in denouncing its policies while demanding additional land and the consolidation of existing areas. In 1973 eight of the homeland leaders met at Umtata in Transkei to explore a federation of the homelands, but nothing came of this owing in part to the coolness of the Tswana leader, Lucas Mangope, and in larger degree to the incompatibility of a Black federation with the goal, voiced most strongly by Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi, of a unified multiracial South African state. Five homeland leaders had rejected independence by 1985. In KwaZulu, homeland for South Africa's Zulus, the nation's largest ethnic group, the Chief Minister, Gatsha Buthelezi, has stated repeatedly that he will not accept independence. He insisted on political rights for Africans within South Africa. The Government, however, maintained its determination to see all of South Africa's homelands independent in the near future, as members of a future overarching confederation of southern African states.

The chief ministers of the homelands played an anomalous role in black politics. As authorized spokesmen for segments of Black society they are prominent public figures, and their views were given some attention in the South African media. They were relatively immune to the legal sanctions that were a constant threat to unofficial Black leaders. To a limited degree they brought influence to bear on Pretoria to ameliorate the economic and political conditions under which their constituents live. They held themselves out as moderates with whom the South African government should reach accommodation before more radical leaders take over. Nevertheless they were viewed suspiciously by most politically conscious Blacks as instruments of the White power structure and symbols of the despised homelands policy.

The "independent" homelands were not recognized by any countries except South Africa and each other. The UN General Assembly declared by a vote of 134 to zero that Transkei's independence was invalid and requested members to prohibit dealings with its citizens. The United States abstained on the UN vote but has stated that it would not recognize the independence of any of the homelands. It had been argued that Transkei, if not the more fragmented Bophuthatswana, has more attributes of statehood than some countries that have been admitted to the UN. The prevailing view in the international community, however, was that recognition would imply acceptance of Pretoria's homelands policy. The independent homelands are thus seen as artificial creations, instigated by the Nationalists against the wishes of most of the people affected, to justify the apartheid system.

The advent of the post-apartheid government marked the demise of apartheid and the Bantustan system for traditional leaders and the beginning of a new struggle for the freedom of the traditional authorities.

Different forms of minerals ownership mediated the access of platinum capital to mineral resources in the Bophuthatswana and Lebowa Bantustans, where the bulk of South Africa’s vast platinum reserves were geopolitically located under apartheid. The reproduction of these strategic mineral property relations was secured during the political transition to the benefit of the white platinum corporations. The industry’s very success in maintaining its proprietary control over the world’s largest platinum endowment combined with an unprecedented surge in global platinum demand to simultaneously position it as the most dynamic element of the post-apartheid mining economy and as the primary target of the new ANC government’s minerals reform policy.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 07-07-2016 20:18:06 ZULU