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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Homelands - the regime's election strategy

With elections approaching, the NP regime has a clear strategy to destabilise ANC efforts in the bantustans. Phillip Dexter, a COSATU nominee for the ANC election list and outgoing NEHAWU general secretary, analyses the NP's shcemes and proposes a counter-strategy.

The homelands or bantustans, as they are known, have been the focal point of much of the attention of the national liberation movement over the years. As dumping grounds for the victims of apartheid, these areas were the scenes of the worst poverty, and often the worst oppression.

Since the terminal decline of the apartheid system picked up pace, these areas have been hotly contested, by the NP regime (via its surrogates and puppets), and the ANC aligned Patriotic Front. In essence, these areas contain enough votes to drastically affect the outcome of the forthcoming elections, and the NP regime has devised a strategy to ensure it maintains control of those bantustans it already has within its camp, and to gain control of those it does not have a hold on. This will not guarantee the NP votes, but will certainly limit those who would wish to vote for the ANC from exercising this right.

Central to this strategy are the state's various intelligence structures, through which it is continuing its past strategy of attempting to win the hearts and minds of certain groups of people, and using brute force where it does not succeed.

At the same time, the contradictions created by the terrible extremes of uneven development, the misuse and mismanagement of resources, blatant corruption, and the now intolerable living conditions of people, have made these areas extremely volatile.

This presents both opportunities and dangers for the ANC in the current phase of the NDR, and after the elections in April 1994.

Conditions on the ground

A brief overview of the conditions of the homelands will give a better understanding of what causes this volatility.

Population Density and Land Distribution

There are large concentrations of people in these areas, putting a strain on the weak infrastructure, and stretching resources to the limit. Economic recession is thus felt more acutely in these regions. Bantustans make up only 14% of all the land in South Africa. The Transkei and Venda have 71 people per square kilometre living in these homelands, whilst in South Africa there are 28 people per square kilometre. In Ciskei the density is 97 people per square kilometre. Generally in South Africa most of the land is owned by white people. In addition, the land available to black people in the homelands is inferior, in all respects . Of South African available arable land, only 27% is in the Bantustans. African farmers are restricted to 13,3 % of the total land in the country. (1)

Income and resources

The levels of income in these areas are considerably lower than in the rest of South Africa, for a number of reasons. In the first instance, these are largely rural areas, and thus have lower incomes and less in the form of assets and resources Secondly, these areas still rely on the migrant labour they can supply to the urban areas for some income, and thus are last in the line when it comes to income that is earned by workers. In 1990, 83% of African rural families in these homelands lived below the minimal living level (MLL), compared with 6% of families in the rural areas in South Africa. In the urban areas in the bantustans, 63% of African families were living below the MLL, while in South Africa the figure for the urban areas was 39%. This shows that in every respect those in the bantustans are worse off. (2)

Services and Infrastructure

It is well known that essential services such as health and education are of a poor standard in the bantustans. Schools and hospitals or clinics are inaccessible to large numbers of people, and it is not unusual for children to walk long distances to and from schools. If one compares spending on health services and South Africa and the homelands, these disparities are revealed, In 1990 in the Cape Province, R99- 00 per person was spent on health. In the Transkei, in the same year, R25-00 was spent per person. In Natal it was R73-00 per person, while in next door Kwazulu it was R19-00. (3)

Roads and transport generally are in poor condition. There is little reliable public transport, except by companies owned privately, often by government officials. These are expensive, and services irregular. Since these areas are largely rural, or semi-rural, this is a severe problem. Simply going shopping can be a major task.

Despotic rule

There is no doubt that some of the bantustan regimes, such as Kwazulu, Ciskei and Bophutastwana, are amongst the worst regimes in the world. Whilst the ANC in these regions is engaging these regimes and scoring many victories, not enough is being done to mobilise against these, both around the country and internationally.

In addition, even the PF home-land regimes are riddled with conservatives, racists and intelligence agents. These need to be identified and either neutralised or expelled. No end of problems are caused by such elements employing "spoiling" tactics, deliberately stirring up trouble where there is discontent, and even plotting, and attempting, to carry out coups. The effect of such forces is clearly felt in the limiting of the ANC alliance in its scope of operations in these areas.

Even those workers fortunate enough to have jobs are themselves discriminated against. In both the private and public sectors wages and conditions of service lag in the homelands. Wage levels as low as R38 per month have been reported, and while these are not the average, the fact that such low wages occur at all is a sign of the extent of the problems of poverty.

All of the above makes for an intolerable situation. Whilst these issues are not unique to the bantustans, the levels of poverty and theseother excesses make for some of the worst conditions in the country.

Public Service

In the civil service and public sector problems abound. Thousands of workers in the civil service do not have security of tenure, or pensions. Labour legislation and wages are not on par with the public service in South Africa, and in the reactionary homelands particularly, management practice is medieval in character. Workers who take any industrial action or even protest action are often dismissed and, whilst this was also the case in previous years in South Africa, legislation granting limited rights to take industrial action has been passed by Parliament. In South Africa in 1990 a general assistant earned R708-00 per month. In Bantustans it was below R584-00 per month. (4)

In particular, these disparities have been used to whip up anti- PF sentiments in the homelands under the control of such regimes. This has been the source of some tension, for example between NEHAWU and the PF governments . At the time of finalising this article, the South African regime had just successfully carried out a silent coup in Lebowa, effectively taking hold of that bantustan. Attempts have been made to overthrow the Transkei, Venda, Lebowa and KwaNdebele regimes on the back of industrial actions by civil servants. This does not mean that workers have acted in collaboration with reactionary forces, but rather that these forces have taken advantage of, and even promoted discontent caused by very real grievances of the workers in the public sector. The classic case in this regard is the Ciskei, where the current dictator, Oupa Gqozo, came to power on the wave of action by civil servants.

Bad Government

The sad truth about the homelands is that even the more progressive regimes have problems around funding service provision. This is primarily caused by deliberate under-funding by the NP-regime, but is often exacer ted by corruption and by misma agement of the already meagre resources. A further example of bad government has been the unwillingness of PF regimes to recognise trade unions, and to involve workers in the affairs of the government in a progressive manner. At times these regimes have been openly hostile to COSATU unions, rein-forcing the belief of workers that the governments are only opportunistically claiming PF allegiance to ride on the popularity of the ANC.

COSAG and the regime's intelligence apparatus

Such contradictions are often successfully exploited by the intelligence community, and their right-wing allies. This is obviously not a new phenomenon, as the Ciskei case reveals. What is different is that these forces are now trying to destabilise the PF regimes. The state's involvement in this is clearly indicated by the fact that where such coup attempts fail, as in Lebowa, more blatant means of regaining control are used, such as exploiting the financial crisis or alleged irregularities that exist, and sending in the government representatives to take control of the administration.

ANC Alliance

The ANC correctly identified these homelands as strategically important areas, and as early as the 1980s switched from simply attempting to make these areas ungovernable, to working at winning over the existing, or installing more progressive regimes. Where the ANC has failed, perhaps inevitably so, is in ensuring that the current PF regimes take on the character and identity of the ANC, and that they develop practices that are in line with the ANC's vision of the new South Africa. Similarly, the credentials and character of these regimes has been misjudged, as in the case of Gqozo in the Ciskei.

Obviously, the constraints placed on these regimes by the NP government, the lack of resources, the conservative civil servants in the administration, and most notably the contradiction of having any kind of relationship with these regimes, has influenced the content of the ANC's relationship with the bantustans. At the same time, not enough has been done to influence these regimes, to control the excesses in certain of them, and to insist on certain basic standards from them as PF members.

1994 Election Campaign

Many of these factors will be of crucial importance in the election that is fast approaching. To ensure that hegemony is maintained and extended in the PF controlled and other homelands, and that the current situation does not deteriorate, the ANC has to develop a strategy to ensure the following:

     conditions are seen to improve in these homelands in the short term

     Contradictions relating to the PF regimes are limited and contained

     Grievances of public sector workers are dealt with, including basic trade union rights

     "Clean" government is practised by PF regimes

In view of the strategic importance of these areas a greater emphasis and priority has to be given to this problem. A failure to address this will see those regimes in the PF collapsing, or being overthrown. Those that survive stand a very good change of alienating large sections of the population that are potential ANC voters.


Whilst it might be impossible to achieve all the goals of such a strategy prior to the democratic elections, it is important for the ANC to begin this process. This will ensure people do feel that their plight is noticed, and sway those existing marginal voters. A failure to do something towards these ends will also mean that the future government will inherit severe problems in these areas, which by then it may be almost too late to address.

Most damaging of all is that the ANC will lose support if it does not come out clearly in terms of the local leaders it supports and allows onto the alliance election list. These individuals need to be instructed, in no uncertain terms, to clean up their act. As potential ANC government members that is the least that the alliance can ask.


1.These figures are given in the COSATU Education publication, Our Political Economy, Understanding the Problems. (COSATU March 1992), p.14 and 15.

2. As above, p.19.

3. As above, p.27.

4. South African Labour Bulletin, vol.16, no. 7, September/October 1992, p.48.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.