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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Homelands

The homelands system lay at the heart of the National Party (NP) government's policy of territorial and political separation based on race. Long before the NP's election victory in 1948, legislation had been enacted to lay the groundwork for the development of the homelands. This included the 1913 and 1936 Land Acts. The Bantu Authorities Act was passed in the early 1950s, increasing the powers of traditional authorities in preparation for self-governance, and in 1959, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act provided the legislative basis for the future homelands. Based on the notion that South Africa's indigenous population was composed of eight (later, ten) African national groups, the architects of apartheid proposed that each group be given the opportunity to advance to higher forms of self-government until independence for each could eventually be realised.

From their creation, the homelands proved to be an emotional and highly charged issue. By and large, opinion on the subject was divided between those who generally supported the homelands project and those who opposed it. In the former group, NP politicians portrayed the homelands as a moral response to South Africa's 'multi-national' reality. Apartheid theorists believed that South Africa was a country containing a number of nations, each developed to a greater or lesser degree. Freedom, they posited, could be realised only by providing the opportunity for each of these nations to exist and develop along its own lines. To achieve this, the South African government initiated the programme of 'separate development'. Proponents of the policy envisioned the creation, under white tutelage, of a number of independent but mutually supportive African states. Theoretically, the homeland system was designed to realise this vision.

Support for the homelands was not limited to South Africa's enfranchised white minority. Some Africans, especially members of the rural elite, also lent their authority to the system. Those who participated in the established structures did so for a variety of reasons. Some sought political or economic gain; others truly believed in the stated goals of traditional rule or national development. Still others argued that they participated in the system only to work for change from within.

Arguments against the homeland system were based on different philosophical and political beliefs, although a number of common threads run through the various critiques. First, some observers outside of the NP believed that economic constraints would inhibit the potential for the full realisation of the homeland concept. Second, many South Africans rejected the apartheid notion that ethnic ties naturally separated the country's population into different nations. This school of thought regarded the homelands as an extension of the central government's policy of 'divide and rule'. Finally, more radical analyses concluded that the homelands were being used as vast dumping grounds where labour superfluous to the (white) capitalist economy could be effectively contained and controlled.

Rural resistance to the creation of homelands, in particular the imposition of tribal authorities and of betterment and rehabilitation schemes, increased during the 1950s. Clashes between police and protesters resulted, notably at Witsieshoek in the Orange Free State in 1950 and at Sekhukhuneland in the eastern Transvaal in 1958. By 1960, opposition in rural Transkei had culminated in the Pondoland Revolt.

The Pondoland Revolt in Transkei was a rural revolt against the increased powers of chiefs and the imminent imposition of homeland structures. Three years later Transkei became the first homeland to be granted self-government status.

Following the successful clampdown on internal opposition, there was a period of marked economic growth. In the wake of these developments, the NP was provided with an opportunity to consolidate its control over the state. In this period of 'grand apartheid', the South African government embarked on a project of profound and widespread social engineering. From the 1960s onwards, millions of individuals were uprooted and relocated - generally to the homelands - in the process of 'consolidating' South Africa's ethnic map. Direct physical violence, accompanied by the structural violence inherent in the system of migrant labour, resulted in violations of human rights that defy easy calculation.

In this period of forced removals, land consolidation and homeland political development, the legislation prepared by Prime Minister Verwoerd's Native Affairs Department was widely implemented. In particular, elaborate and at times farcical steps were taken during the 1960s and 1970s to establish African-led administrations in the homelands. As was often the case, the Transkei proved the testing ground and eventually the model for the other homelands.

In 1963, the South African parliament passed the Transkei Constitution Act, replacing the existing territorial authority with a 'self-governing' legislative assembly with limited law-making powers. The assembly consisted of forty-five elected members and sixty-four ex officio chiefs (who, in terms of the 1951 Bantu Authorities Act, were employees of the South African government). From this body, a chief minister was elected who in turn appointed a homeland cabinet. Following the first general election later in the year, Chief Kaiser Matanzima was elected to the chief ministership, largely on the support of the non-elected chiefs.

Almost a decade passed before another homeland followed Transkei's lead. Partly to avoid further delay, in 1970-71 the South African government passed two pieces of legislation designed to ease the political development of the remaining homelands.

The Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act stipulated that all African South Africans were citizens of one of the homelands, even if they currently lived in the 'white' Republic. The Bantu Homelands Constitution Act empowered the Prime Minister to devolve self-government to the homelands by decree, thus circumventing the cumbersome legislative process employed in the case of the Transkei.

Political developments quickly followed in a number of homelands. In 1971, self-government was granted to Ciskei and Bophuthatswana; Lebowa, Gazankulu and Venda received self-government in 1973. Only Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (the so-called TBVC states) ever went on to take independence. In 1972, the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly was established, followed by self-government in February 1977; KwaZulu consistently refused to opt for independence. At the end of this period, in 1975, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi revived Inkatha, then a cultural organisation. Buthelezi has been president of Inkatha ever since and went on to head the KwaZulu government throughout its existence. The remaining homelands became self-governing over the ensuing years. In this manner, the apartheid principle of territorial segregation was physically realised through the creation of separate, ethnically-based homelands.

In the period 1976 to 1982, the homeland development project initiated by the 1959 Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act reached its peak. Despite threats to the former state from other quarters (notably the national uprising of 1976-1977 and the growth of Black Consciousness), its ultimate objective with respect to the homelands was at least partially realised. In quick succession, political elites in Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei opted for constitutional 'independence' from South Africa (in 1976, 1977, 1979 and 1981 respectively). Although the prospect of independence had initially been seen as contingent on homelands meeting a number of prerequisites (based on administrative capacity, political maturity and economic development), these requirements were dropped to speed up the process. By the time Ciskei celebrated its independence, some eight million Africans had been 'de-nationalised', in effect becoming foreigners in the land of their birth.

In the hope of convincing the remaining six homeland administrations to follow suit, the South African government intensified efforts to consolidate the geographically fragmented homelands. This process included removing 'black spots' which remained in 'white' South Africa. As in previous periods, the suffering caused by this massive social engineering was widespread and extreme. Old methods of forced removals were supplemented, especially during the Botha administration, by new tactics - including the simple but effective practice of unilaterally re-drawing homeland boundaries. Specific conflicts that arose are discussed elsewhere in the Commission's report.

Here, it is important to emphasise the cumulative, national impact of the homeland project. According to an often cited report of the Surplus People Project, an estimated 3.5 million people were moved by the South African state between 1960 and 1982 in support of its programme of homeland development.

While the homeland governments reached the height of their political powers in this period, the economic weakness of the supposed national states belied their independence. Where the 'reserves' had traditionally served to support and reproduce labour for the urban capitalist economy, under apartheid the growing homeland population was increasingly supported by remittances from relatives working in distant industries. Central government subsidies and loans supported growing bureaucracies, which remained one of the few sources of employment in the remote homelands.

As homeland political development raced ahead, so homeland security structures came into their own. Following in the footsteps of the Transkei, the majority of homelands assumed responsibility for policing within their borders in this period. In addition, homeland armies were established in each of the independent bantustans. At the same time, regional, ethnically constituted SADF units were set up to serve the self-governing homelands as independent armies-in-waiting. Security legislation in the TBVC states was enacted to support these forces. At times, the powers accorded to homeland security forces exceeded those exercised by the SAP and SADF. The most important pieces of legislation included the Transkei Public Security Act of 1977, the Bophuthatswana Internal Security Act of 1979, the Ciskei National Security Act of 1982 and the Venda Maintenance of Law and Order Act of 1985. In 1978, Mr PW Botha assumed the premiership following Vorster's resignation in the wake of the Information Department scandal. Buoyed by a brief economic upswing early in his term, Botha initiated a wide-ranging, carefully calculated period of reform. Explicitly controlled from above, Botha's cautious reforms were designed to give form to his famous call for white South Africa "to adapt or die". Botha's so-called Total Strategy combined limited political concessions to non-whites with increased militarization to counter opposition at home and abroad. However, by 1983, Botha's cautious reformism lay in tatters. Far from neutralizing the perceived 'total onslaught' against the state, opposition to the government and its policies peaked in the form of a widespread popular uprising that continued throughout the decade. The homelands were not immune to the rising tide of resistance.

Like urban South Africa, the homelands witnessed a peak in political activity in this period. In part, opposition in the homelands was spurred on by developments elsewhere in the country, especially in the townships. However, developments internal to the homelands were at least as important in politicizing Bantustan populations.

Despite reformist initiatives in other spheres, the Botha administration did not dramatically alter the state's homeland policy. Throughout this period, the traditional tools of influx control, denationalization and independence remained the pillars of government policy towards the homelands. Perhaps the most important policy development in this period was the government's increasing reliance on incorporation to consolidate and strengthen the homelands. As demonstrated numerous times, however, the new tactic of redrawing boundaries to enlarge the homelands only created new or fuelled existing opposition in the affected areas. The conflict in KwaNdebele and Moutse in the mid-1980s dramatically illustrated this dynamic.

Because of increased resistance, combined with the continued growth of homeland forces, the security situation in all of the homelands deteriorated dramatically. The highest number of homeland gross violations of human rights reported to the Commission was for the period 1983-1989. In addition to the increase in resistance and repression, the homelands posed increasing security concerns for the South African government, proving to be dangerously unstable. In a number of cases, the very security forces created by South Africa to defend homeland rule rose up to challenge incumbent homeland governments. In Bophuthatswana and the Ciskei, South African forces put down several attempted coups. Meanwhile, South African security force personnel were implicated in fuelling a series of cross-border raids between Ciskei and Transkei during the SADF's Operation Katzen. By the end of the period, Major General Bantu Holomisa of the TDF had engineered the first successful coup when he deposed Stella Sigcau's Transkei government in December 1987. More coups would follow in the 1990s.

In KwaZulu, Inkatha became increasingly alienated from the ANC and the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Chief Buthelezi began to turn towards the South African government for more assistance. Covert assistance to Inkatha from the SADF MI's Directorate of Special Tasks (DST) began during this period, through Operation Marion, and involving the training of paramilitary style units in the Caprivi, Namibia, which were subsequently deployed in KwaZulu. Years later, some of these recruits were taken into the KZP. DST, which had also been responsible for Operation Katzen in Transkei and Ciskei, was responsible for support to external covert groupings such as RENAMO in Mozambique, UNITA in Angola and the Lesotho Liberation Army in Lesotho.

Throughout this period, homeland police forces continued to expand, both in size and importance. With the transfer of policing authority to KwaNdebele and KaNgwane in 1986, all of the homelands supported their own police forces. By the end of the decade, these forces had grown to considerable size. One analyst has reported that by 1990, the Transkei Police employed 3 300 police officers, the Venda and Ciskei forces each numbered 2 000 and Bophuthatswana boasted the largest force with 5 300 police officers. Another observer estimated that by the early 1990s approximately 20 000 black police officers served in the ten homeland forces.

It was also during this period that the Caprivi trainees from Operation Marion in KwaZulu were recruited as special constables and formally brought into the security structures. In 1988, some 300 Inkatha supporters were recruited as special constables, including 130 of the Caprivi trainees. This influx could account for some of the large increase in spending on policing in KwaZulu during this period.

The SAP continued to operate in the self-governing territories. In KwaZulu, the SAP's Riot Unit 8 actively assisted Inkatha members in attacks on non-Inkatha residents.

As homeland forces struggled to cope with the rising tide of mass resistance, an ever increasing amount of money was funnelled into homeland policing.

In accordance with their increased size and expanded budgets, homeland forces played a significant part in this period's intensifying repression. As examined in greater detail in the section below, gross violations of human rights statements received by the Commission confirm the central role of homeland police forces in security operations. In a period that recorded the most gross violations of human rights, almost half of all perpetrators identified by victims were affiliated to a homeland police force.

As homeland forces expanded in size and assumed a larger operational role, they became increasingly politicized, focused on counter-insurgency, alienated from local communities and aloof from independent restraint. As South Africa's 'securocrats' turned to strategies of counter-revolutionary warfare in the mid-1980s, these characteristics were further enhanced. This process is aptly demonstrated by developments in the KZP     

Like their police counterparts, the independent armies of the TBVC homelands also increased in size from their humble beginnings in the late 1970s. However, as the following tables show, homeland armies generally enjoyed less person power and financial resources than their colleagues in the police did.

The homeland armies played an important role in the 'area war' concept guiding SADF strategy. Convinced that the liberation armies would not wage a border war, the SADF hierarchy stressed the need to organize security forces and civilian auxiliaries on a regional basis in order to combat insurgency wherever and whenever it appeared. South Africa was accordingly divided into ten territorial regions, each of which was designed to act as a first line of defence for the Republic. Although not officially acknowledged at the time, the TBVC armies as well as the SADF's black battalions were each assigned to a territorial region in terms of this plan.

With respect to the operation of the homeland defence forces, several points should be noted. First, when called upon, homeland armies worked with South African security forces in joint operations against perceived guerrillas.

Second, at times South Africa used the homelands, particularly the independent bantustans, as springboards for military operations against front-line states.

Finally, following the outbreak of widespread unrest in the mid-1980s, the homeland armies were increasingly used to assist police forces in suppressing internal opposition. Not only were such operations explicitly condoned in the various homelands' defence acts, but legislation was often enacted to indemnify security force members from civil or criminal prosecution for acts committed in 'good faith' while 'maintaining law and order'.

However, the overall significance of the role of homeland armies in the political calculus of the homelands proved most important. At various times, all four of the independent homelands witnessed coups of varying success. Although the immediate reasons advanced for the coups varied, several threads run through the different experiences. First, homeland armies generally played a much more prominent role in coup attempts than their police counterparts. Second, corruption within homeland administrations was frequently cited as a motivating factor. Finally, coups exposed the fractured and weak nature of homeland administrations. More often than not, coups originated with the cleavages already present in regimes with questionable legitimacy. As an important elite within homeland politics, and one of the few institutional actors with sufficient resources to mount a political challenge, homeland armies were often forced into the role of king-maker or king-protector. Of course, homeland armies were not alone in this regard. Ultimately the South African state, through the SADF, remained the final arbiter in times of political uncertainty.

While South Africa proper tended to use repressive legislation primarily against extra-parliamentary opposition, the homelands also used such legislation to act against election and parliamentary opponents: the opportunities for opposition were thus extremely limited.

The use of chiefs was an essential part of control in the homelands. Chiefs were granted additional powers, including the key authority over land allocation; communities without chiefs (such as Group Four in Thornhill, Ciskei) were refused access to services. Chiefs were also sometimes used in recruiting vigilantes in rural areas. Conflict between chiefs and communities sometimes became so great that chiefs and headmen were armed (such as in Ciskei during 1983 and later under military government in the 1990s).

The cult of personalities seems to have been far stronger in the homelands than in South Africa proper. In Ciskei in the early 1980s, Major General Charles Sebe was the overall security force commander and operated as a dictator: the powers of the Ciskei National Security Act of 1982 were exercised on Sebe's discretion. Under the initial governments, family connections were powerful (Ciskei ruler Lennox Sebe first appointed his two brothers to key positions and then arrested them, while Transkei rulers Kaiser and George Matanzima had ongoing spats) and splits were later exploited by both homeland and South African security forces. In both Ciskei and Transkei, bribery reflected the importance of gaining the favour of the ruler of the day. Under the military dictatorships, this trend was even more obvious as they ruled by decrees, some of which appear to have been issued on whims.

South African security forces co-operated with homeland security forces in handing over political detainees. In some cases, this appears to have been done in order to prevent the families or lawyers of the detainees from ascertaining their whereabouts. Some of these handovers were clearly illegal.

While the police tended to operate in overt and brutal ways (detentions, torture, and assassinations), by the mid-1980s, the South African military was learning how to manipulate the separate Ciskei and Transkei security forces and ultimately the politicians in the region. Such military activities became even more sophisticated in the 1990s when the need for a clandestine method of destabilizing the now-legal ANC arose. The independent homelands provided a perfect loophole for this.

The so-called Pondoland Revolt took place in Pondoland in eastern Transkei in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was an extended uprising by Pondoland groups - particularly ANC supporters who referred to themselves as iKongo members - against the imposition of tribal authorities and impending self-government for Transkei. Numerous incidents of violence took place during 1960, including clashes between security forces and iKongo members, attacks by iKongo members on chiefs and those regarded as collaborating with chiefs or police, and the destruction of iKongo members' homes by chiefs. Legal methods used by the security forces to crush this revolt included the declaration of a state of emergency on 30 November 1960, widespread detentions, criminal prosecutions and banishment of families. Illegal methods included torture in custody (primarily in detention), deaths in custody, apparently due to treatment received, and the use of unnecessary force in public order policing.

On 6 June 1960, conflict developed between security forces and iKongo members at Ngquza Hill in the Lusikisiki region of Pondoland, when security forces broke up an iKongo meeting. Most accounts indicate that the meeting was tear gassed from aircraft, after which police on the ground moved in, some of them opening fire, killing at least eleven iKongo members.

111. An inquest subsequently found that at least some of the dead had been killed by fire from Sten guns. It seems clear that the SAP were involved in this incident, although the extent of their involvement is not. The SANDF told the Commission that: "In the sequence of events it is clear that the SADF was over the said period definitely not deployed in the Transkei". However, the aircraft used in the operation must have been SADF aircraft used in support of police operations (the SAP had no aircraft at that time) and, if there were any parachutists, these were probably SADF members. The SAPS said they had no knowledge of the use by police of Sten guns in 1960. According to the SANDF, both police and military were armed with Sten guns.

Sten Sub Machine Guns were only issued to the Platoon Leaders (Lieutenants) and Platoon Sergeants of which, according to the strength of the SADF elements, there were about eight in total. The troops were issued with .303 rifles. From memory, it seems that the SAP was issued with 9mm Sten Sub Machine Guns.

It seems probable that the shooting was carried out by the police as, if the SADF were involved in this incident, they were probably involved as backup to an SAP operation as was standard procedure The SAPS said it had no records from this period, but said both military and police were involved:

When military ruler Brigadier Oupa Gqozo deposed Sebe's government, the use of state-sponsored vigilantes continued. When the clashes between Gqozo's government and ANC supporters became increasingly bloody during 1992-94, Gqozo hired a private security company - Peace Force - to guard government installations and to recruit and train members of the government's African Democratic Movement (ADM), which acted as a vigilante force. As with the 1983 vigilantes, rural chiefs and headmen were crucial in recruiting these trainees. This group was given training by Peace Force at the CDF military base on the coast, next door to Gqozo's private farm, and was armed with shotguns. Later Gqozo's security forces also armed headmen with G3 rifles.

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.