Paramount Chief Sabata Dalindyebo was born on 25 November 1928. His father died suddenly some five months earlier before marrying his official Great Wife. He was an infant when his father passed away, which resulted in his brother Jongintaba Dalindyebo acting as King. Jongintaba raised Nelson Mandela at the ‘Great Place’ Mqhekezweni when his own father died in the 1920s.
Many years later, former Prime Minister of Transkei George Matanzima would say that old Mhlobo Matanzima had been instrumental in selecting Sabata as heir, but the truth of the matter seems to be that he was unanimously chosen by a national meeting of the Thembu people (September 1929) because his mother outranked the three other wives of the late Jogilizwe.
After a stormy school career ”” he was expelled at least once and never matriculated ”” Sabata faced up to his regent and guardian (Chief Dabulamanzi Dalindyebo) who refused to present him for circumcision. Backed once again by the full Thembu council, Sabata took the matter to court and forced the issue. He was duly circumcised, and on 30 June 1954, installed as Paramount Chief of the Thembu.
Almost immediately, Sabata and his advisers found themselves locked in conflict with Kaiser D. Matanzima (K.D.) who, at that point, ranked no higher officially than senior chief of the St Marks District, (the present-day Cofimvaba). K.D. was, however rather older (thirteen years) and considerably better educated (he was a qualified attorney) than the young Paramount. Moreover, he had from a very early stage recognised the possibilities of the Bantu Authorities system, which the then Minister of Native Affairs, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, was busily setting up. Matanzima claimed to be Paramount Chief of 'Emigrant Thembuland', an administrative division set up in 1865 by the Colonial authorities on land confiscated from hostile Xhosa and given to Thembu collaborators. Foremost among these was the first Matanzima, Kaiser's great grandfather and truly the founder of a family tradition.
Sabata resisted Kaiser's claims which cut back his own authority and divided the Thembu nation. However, the Government Anthropologist upheld Matanzima’ claim ”” hardly surprising, since K.D. was a 'Progressive' chief while Sabata's secretary, Jackson Nkosiyane, was well known as a vigorous opponent of the South African government and all its works, from tribal authorities to rehabilitation schemes.
In 1958, K.D. was recognised as chief of 'Emigrant Thembuland', while Sabata was told that any further "impertinent letters" would result in his deposition. Nkosiyane and other "undesirable advisers" were banished. Sabata did not waver in the face of this dire example.
In 1961, he organised a meeting of some thousand chiefs and headmen to protest against rehabilitation. According to one historian, “in 1963 the Engcobo and Umtata districts were said by police to be the most violent districts in the Transkei."
Sabata supported Victor Poto's Democratic Party against Matanzima in the 1963 elections to the Transkei Legislative Assembly, and he stood by the opposition through Matanzima's successive electoral triumphs, through the defection of Tutor Ndamase (Poto's heir), and, finally, through the disintegration of the Democratic Party itself.
Initially, he refrained from open support of either Hector Ncokazi's radical Democrats or Knowledge Guzana's Parliamentarists. However, as the former gave way to repression and the latter to irrelevance, he increasingly allied himself with the radicals.
Sabata is reputed to be somewhat erratic in his personal habits ("his path is strewn with broken bottles" runs one line of his praises) and he had no intellectual pretensions. He preferred to leave most of the talking in the Legislative Assembly to his representative (and leading D.P. radical), Florence Mancotywa. Nevertheless, his moral authority was immense. Alone among his fellow-chiefs, he resisted the power and luxury which were his for the asking. Alone, he persevered in obstinate and implacable opposition to Kaiser Matanzima and to the very conception of Transkeian independence.
Alone in Transkei, he dared to say aloud what many others were thinking. Outside of Parliament, he was a powerful and hard-hitting speaker. He called the Matanzima brothers "spies and good boys for the South African government". He called Transkei independence "settling for a fowl-run". Furthermore cutting through the bland official rhetoric which no one in Transkei questions or believes, he delivered the following analysis of K.D.'s well-publicised request (1976) for the release of Nelson Mandela: "They say to the Government, 'We want the world to know that we have asked for their release, but don't release them'. If Mandela were brought to the Transkei, I am definitely sure nobody else will be voted for, whether as Prime Minister or as President".
Transkei independence and the Transkei Security Act deprived Sabata of any protection but his high rank and popular respect. His election, in March 1979, as leader of the new Democratic Progressive Party (the rump of the old opposition added to Stella Sigcau's essentially opportunistic Eastern Mpondo breakaway) made him paradoxically more vulnerable. Leading his party in the non-confidence debate of that year, he said, "Let me say we have no confidence in the Government and we feel insecure. We feel so unsafe that literally we feel we may be shot at any time".
Insulated, perhaps, by the belief that Kaiser, his cousin and 'junior' in traditional terms, would accord him due respect (later, in prison, he wrote to Kaiser that their common ancestors had appeared to him in a dream and expressed their shock at his condition ”” that a King of the Thembu should be found in such a place), Sabata soldiered on. In June 1980 he told a party rally that "the Transkei President visited Pretoria at the insistence of the Boers and accepted independence on terms dictated by them, that the President had an abundance of the necessities of life whilst his people had to live on excreta, and that the President maltreated his people".
For this, and for a casual remark published by a reporter that the Transkei passport was a "useless piece of paper", Sabata was arrested, towards the end of 1979, (by police and armoured cars) and indicted for subverting the sovereignty of Parliament and the constitutional independence of Transkei, and for violating and injuring the dignity of the State President.
The trial took place in Port St Johns in September 1979 to prevent massive support for Chief Dalindyebo. He was found guilty on the latter charge and fined R700 or 18 months. K.D. was not prepared to let him off so lightly. The time had come to break Sabata once and for all. It was suggested to the Dalindyebo Tribal Authority that Sabata should be disciplined for his gross offence.
Sabata's councillors tried to placate the government by adding another R100 onto the fine, but this was not what the Matanzima brothers were after. On 6 August 1980, he was deposed and by the 11th he had fled. (Later that same month, Minister Saul Ndzumo, suddenly fallen from favour, died in prison). Chief Dalindyebo was replaced by his half brother Bambilanga Dalindyebo.
The flight of Sabata Dalindyebo, the last major public figure to oppose the increasingly repressive regime of the brothers Matanzima, marked the end of an era in Transkei.
Paramount Chief Sabata Dalindyebo died in exile in Zambia on 7 April 1986 and was succeeded by his son Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo.
In October 1989, two years after Bantu Holomisa came to power in the Transkei, there was a sense of anticipation in the air, due to his willingness to allow Chief Sabata Dalindyebo’s remains to be exhumed and re-buried at Bumbane Great Place in the Transkei. In an episode that angered many, K.D. Matanzima ordered the removal of the body of the Paramount Chief from an Umtata funeral parlour, and buried it unofficially, in order to avoid any confrontation.
The First Wife of the late Thembu King Sabata Dalindyebo, NoMoscow Dalindyebo, a clan cousin of Nelson Mandela and mother of the Thembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, passed away in the Nelson Mandela Hospital in Mthatha on 14 June 2012.
• Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory (2012), Condolences on the passing of NoMoscow Dalindyebo from the NMCM, [online], Available at www.nelsonmandela.org [Accessed on 3 July 2012]
• Kaschula R. (2002) The Bones of the Ancestors Are Shaking, ( Juta &Co) pp.137
• SADET, (2006), The Road to Democracy in South Africa. Volume 2 [1970 ”“ 1980]. (Unisa Press -Pretoria).