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Mandela's Kinsmen

Mandela's Kinsmen: Nationalist Elites and Apartheid's First Bantustan

Timothy Gibbs
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    Mandela's Kinsmen
    Book Description:

    Historians often suggest that African elites were eclipsed by an era of mass politics and insurgency during the South African transition, trade unions and popular insurgency in townships seen as having dominated political life, with rural and regional forces perceived as secondary or disruptive. Yet across the continent, Native Reserves were often well-springs of African leadership in the mid-twentieth century, with political leaders such as Mandela usingregionally rooted clan, schooling and professional connections to vault to leadership. They crafted expansive nationalisms from these 'kin' identities, and regional elites were co-opted by settler governments, most notably into the Bantustans in South Africa. This history of Transkei during apartheid offers a new interpretation of the significance of ethnicity within African nationalism, uncovering the ambiguous connections between the nationalist elites, the chieftaincy and the Bantustan bureaucracy, and unraveling the complex relationships with the ANC. The author reassesses the Bantustans and the changing politics of chieftaincy, showing how local dissent within Transkei connected to wider political movements and ideologies. Emphasizing the importance of elite politics, he describes how the ANC-in-exile attempted to re-enter South Africa through the Bantustans drawing on elite kin networks. This failed in KwaZulu, but Transkei provided vital support after a coup in 1987, and the alliances forged were important during the apartheid endgame. Finally, in counterpoint to Africanist debates that focus on how South African insurgencies narrowed nationalist thought and practice, he maintains ANC leaders calmed South Africa's conflicts of the early 1990s by espousing an inclusive nationalism that incorporated local identities, and that 'Mandela's kinsmen' still play a key role in state politics today. Timothy Gibbs is Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-237-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  7. Introduction Mandela’s Kinsmen
    (pp. 1-9)

    ‘I was born on 18 July 1918 at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River, in the district of Umtata, the capital of Transkei… a beautiful country of rolling hills, fertile valleys, and a thousand rivers and streams which keep the landscape green.’¹ The opening chapters of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography give a lyrical account of his rural childhood. The Transkei territories are an area of scattered settlements and bustling small towns situated between the Indian Ocean and the Drakensberg mountains in the Xhosa-speaking, Eastern Cape region of South Africa. Mandela spent most of his early years...

  8. 1. Education, Monarchy & Nationalism
    (pp. 10-24)

    In 1938, during Nelson Mandela’s final year in boarding school at Healdtown, ‘an event occurred that… was like a comet streaking across the night sky.’¹ The school was given an impromptu holiday to celebrate the performance of a famousimbongi(praise poet), Krune Mqhayi. A praise poet typically performed in the court of a king; but Mqhayi was a well-educated teacher who had left a comfortable post and retreated to the hills to pursue his calling. That night Healdtown witnessed Mqhayi perform his most famous poem. First Mqhayi subversively alluded to colonial conquest. Then he danced about the stage, waving...

  9. 2. The First Bantustan 1954–1963
    (pp. 25-47)

    In the 1950s, the Thembu kingdom was in the midst of a dispute – the chieftaincy split over the figure of King Sabata Dalindyebo (b.1928), the young paramount chief installed in 1954. Chieftaincy disputes were not unusual, but in the 1950s these clashes carried much broader significance. This was the decade in which apartheid government legislation laid the foundations for the creation of Bantustan self-governing territories, which followed in the 1960s. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 was unpopular because it established a system of Tribal Authorities: new tiers of segregated, local ‘tribal’ administration in which government-appointed chiefs took new powers....

  10. 3. The Second Peasants’ Revolt, Mpondoland 1960–1980
    (pp. 48-69)

    In 1962 Govan Mbeki languished in detention, his role as the mastermind of the sabotage campaign in the Eastern Cape having been exposed by the failure of a bomb explosion in the Engcobo district of Transkei. Whilst in solitary confinement, Govan Mbeki illicitly resumed work on what was to become his most famous book,The Peasants’ Revolt. The book was published in Britain, thanks to the editing efforts of Ruth First, who meshed the prison manuscript, which had been written on toilet paper, together with earlier drafts.¹

    The Peasants’ Revoltwas a celebration of the rural revolt of the Eastern...

  11. 4. The Old Mission Schools 1963–1980
    (pp. 70-90)

    Above all, it was the mission schools dotted across the Native Reserves that shaped the African elite during the middle decades of the 20th century. The story is most easily told in the figures. In 1940, the year after Nelson Mandela left Healdtown College, there were only 5,800 African pupils in secondary school in the entire country. Two decades later, when Thabo Mbeki sat his school exams at St Johns College at Umtata, secondary schooling remained an elite concern. In 1960 only 4% of African teenagers attended a secondary school; even fewer graduated. That year, there were 47,000 African pupils...

  12. 5. The Comrade-King Bantustan Politics 1964–1980
    (pp. 91-110)

    The rural unrest in the Mpondo districts of Transkei and the school revolts pointed towards deep discontents within the Bantustans, but for most of the 1960s and 1970s, the official opposition parties, who opposed Matanzima within the Transkei legislature, struggled to find their voice. For one, there was the problem of finding a political ideology and language that appealed to the diverse splinters of dissent. The young protestors in Transkei’s schools made the most noise, but their schools were islands of anger. They had an uncertain relationship with more cautious, prosperous professionals, who made a good living inside Transkei’s towns,...

  13. 6. Chris Hani’s Guerrillas 1974–1987
    (pp. 111-130)

    In 1974, Chris Hani illicitly travelled across South Africa to Lesotho. His mission was to ‘establish a political and diplomatic presence there’.¹ It was through frontline states such as Lesotho and Swaziland – known as the Island and the Bay – that ANC guerrillas inUmkhonto weSizwe(MK) would return to South Africa.

    The ANC-in-exile believed they would return to South Africa through armed struggle. Just as Fidel Castro’s forces had survived in the Cuban countryside whilst support for Batista’s regime had ebbed away, so insurgent forces inside South Africa would detonate a popular struggle against the apartheid regime. However, the ANC...

  14. 7. The Apartheid Endgame 1987–1996
    (pp. 131-154)

    String-pulling and elite political manoeuvring worked both ways. A countercoup against Stella Sigcau’s Bantustan government was brewing within the Transkei Defence Force. Her ‘apparent ANC sympathies’ were causing ‘consider able consternation’. On the penultimate day of 1987, a young officer, Brigadier Bantu Holomisa, toppled Sigcau. The interregnum had lasted less than 90 days. A week later, Kaiser Matanzima telexed the apartheid government in Pretoria: ‘Military takeover peaceful. South Africa citizens safe and happy. Transkeians joyful.’¹

    Tumbled into power aged only 33, Bantu Holomisa’s meteoric rise owed much to the militarisation of Bantustan politics. He rose through the ranks of the...

  15. 8. The New South Africa & Transkei’s Collapse, 1990 Onwards
    (pp. 155-175)

    If the democratic transition allowed many of the region’s elite to secure high office in the new South Africa, Transkei itself imploded. Ironically, some of the greatest challenges to Bantu Holomisa’s military government in the early 1990s came from the more disorderly elements within the broad nationalist alliance. After Holomisa unbanned the liberation movements, a plethora of organisations, political groups and local initiatives mushroomed. From their base in Umtata, a hastily formed Interim Regional Executive Committee, nominated in early 1990 by the ANC national leadership, struggled to gain some control of events. The ex-Robben Islander, Alfred Xobololo, was made chair...

  16. Conclusion African Nationalism & its Fragments
    (pp. 176-184)

    On 1 October 2008, South Africa’s new National Heritage Council laid on a feast at Bumbane to commemorate the memory of Sabata Dalindyebo, a close relative of Nelson Mandela, whose story has threaded through the pages of this book. National politicians and well connected chiefs flew in from Cape Town and Johannesburg; the cow to be slaughtered was apparently trucked across the Transkei, having been donated by the Zulu king.¹ The social landscape of Transkei has changed hugely since Sabata Dalindyebo and Nelson Mandela grew up in rural Thembuland in the first decades of the 20th century. A dignitary driving...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-200)
  18. Index
    (pp. 201-208)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)