South Africa’s Transkei: The Politics of Domestic Colonialism

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I bought South Africa’s Transkei: The Politics of Domestic Colonialism by Gwendolen M. Carter, Thomas Karis and Newell M. Stultz at the Cape Town Central Library’s book sale in September 2017. The read comes hot on the heels of another Transkei book, Render Unto Kaiser: A Transkei Dossier by Barry Streek and Richard Wicksteed, so many of the names and information were still fresh in mind. The authors packed their book with solid blocks of tiny text and minuscule footnotes on its 188 pages. It was a strain on my eyes to get through this in eleven days. The reading experience at times honestly left my eyes sore, and I was happy to put the book down when I finished reading for the day. It was my fault for not using a magnifying glass to read the endnotes when I knew I needed it. The book itself detailed the political nitty-gritty that set the gears in motion to create the South African homelands. Since this book was published in 1967 it covered Transkei before it gained independence from South Africa in 1976. Render Unto Kaiser profiled Transkei mostly after independence.

One observation I made time and time again was how much the South African government interfered with Transkeian internal politics, even after the bantustan had achieved growing levels of autonomy. I came to the Marie Antoinette conclusion that the republic was willing to give Transkei independence only as long as the new country agreed to be ruled by the apartheid behemoth on the other side of the porous border. In other words, Transkei would be independent on paper (yet not in the eyes of the doubting world) and South Africa would still be calling the shots. Elections were analyzed in great detail, as well as the tribal system of chiefs and their importance throughout the territory. Since this book was from 1967 the land assignment was not yet finalized: the map included in the front of the book showed Transkei as just one piece, not three discontiguous pieces it would eventually end up being.

The authors were prescient in their epilogue, entitled “South Africa Fails to Meet the Challenge”. Their conclusion was that the homelands policy was a faux legitimizing of apartheid rendered as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The cover image was striking (although the colour scheme ironic): Transkei, the little white semicircle dominated by the big black semicircle called the Republic of South Africa.

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