The Pondo people fiercely resisted the rise of the Colonisersand their attempts to reshape and re-engineer Pondoland and to co-opt their Chiefs. Violence erupted around issues such as Chiefs who collaborated with the Apartheid state, the land reclamation programme, the Bantu Authorities system and spontaneous revolts against further imposition into the Pondo people’s life. Pondo people had less trust and faith in their Chiefs since Chiefs proved they were willing to be co-opted by the colonial rulers at the expense of their subjects.
The Pondoland revolt took place in the Eastern Transkei in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Pondo people revolted against the Bantu Authorities’ new system as described in the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951, which intended to place certain categories of administration in the hands of the ‘Blacks’ while retaining the decisive authority in the hands of the central government.
The Bantu Authorities system brought a hierarchy of tribal, district, regional and territorial authorities while increasing the power of Chiefs to a certain level. Additionally, the system increased taxes, a shift away from elected authority and reduction in popular participation. The Bantu Authorities System was imposed from outside with little consultation.
The Pondo people opposed the implementation of the land reclamation programmeor Betterment Scheme.The Betterment or Land Reclamation Scheme was introduced to Pondoland by magistrates in 1947.
This scheme was about resettlements, stock control, rotational grazing, fencing of grazing land, culling, regular dipping and promotion of government-sponsored cattle sales.According to the authorities, the land reclamation programme would entailkraals being concentrated in certain areas, while certain lands would be used for plantations. In effect, the land rehabilitation scheme had made the Pondo people believe that they would lose their land. Therefore, they resisted an attempt to divide arable land from grazing land. A further cause for revolt was Chiefs who collaborated with the Apartheid state. Chiefs were no longer figures in their own right, but were carrying out orders of the central government and imposing them on the Pondo people.
Botha Sigcau, the Paramount Chief of Eastern Pondoland (1939-1976), accepted the limitations placed on his power by the Colony. For example, in 1889 and 1894, Sigcau granted mineral, railway and land rights to one company in return for money. However, Chiefs were corrupt, unfair and accepted bribes. Furthermore, Chiefs were accepting bribes in return for allotting individuals land. Many Chiefs had accepted new positions in the Bantu Authorities System without consulting the people they led, which intensified the revolt against the system.
The development of a political movement started when those opposed to the imposition of tribal authorities and the impending self-government of Transkei held meetings in the mountains of Ngquza, Imzia and Nhlovu. In March 1960, Mpondo people from different areas in Pondoland came together to form the “Hill Committee” to coordinate the activities of the peasant movement that later became known as “ikongo” (a Xhosalisation of congress).
The ikongo invited government officials and magistrates to hear their grievances, but their invitation was ignored. Then, the rebels started to attack Chiefs, security forces and everyone who was believed to favour the Bantu Authorities.The first indication of the revolt against the Chiefs, who were seen as traitors, occurred at Lusikisiki, East Pondoland, at a meeting called by Botha Sigcau, the Paramount Chief of Eastern Pondoland. The meeting ended in chaos and police officials were requested by the colonial government to disperse the crowd.
Toward the end of 1959, violence broke out in the Isikelo area in the District of Bizana, Eastern Pondoland when Mpondo people requested Saul Mabude, an Advocate of Bantu authorities and Chairman of the district authority to come and explain Bantu Authorities at a public meeting. However, Mabude feared of his life, and did not attend the meeting. As a result, the angry Mpondo crowd burned his house. The police responded by terrorising the rural people of Eastern Pondoland. The Mpondo people did not surrender, but continued to mobilise across many districts and made it clear to Botha Sigcau, the Paramount chief, that the “the Bantu Authorities would operate over their dead bodies and he was the “Boot-Licker of Verwoerd”, the South African Prime minister by then.
In June 1960, the iKongo leaders called a meeting on Ngquza Mountain, but the meeting was disrupted by violence when the police threw teargas and fired into the crowd with automatic rifles. Twenty-three people were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment and eleven people were killed. A further outbreak of violence took place in the Flagstaff District where a police patrol was ambushed and stoned by angry Pondo people. The police retaliated by shooting at them. Two police officers were injured and one headman was arrested.
On 19 November 1960, a mass meeting was called at Ngqindile near Flagstaff. The police were tipped off by the half-brother of Paramount Chief, Vukayibambe Sigcau, who took part in the police’s operation of dispersing the meeting. One protester was killed and Vukayibambe Sigcau’s kraal was attacked by an impi (a group of armed men). The Chief and his Indunas (headmen) were violently killed, others were wounded and ten huts in the kraal burnt down. Several violent clashes took place in Bala near Flagstaff, and police officials were rushed to the area while military aircraft monitored the meeting in the mountain.
Shortly after the massacre, a Commission of Inquiry was held. The Mpondo people demanded the removal of Bantu Authorities, the removal of Paramount Chief Botha Sigcau, a relief from taxes and they wanted representation in the South African government. Their demands were ignored. The Mpondo people started to boycott white-owned stores in Pondoland.
At the end of November 1960, a State of Emergency was declared in Flagstaff, Bizana, Takankulu, Lusikisiki and Mount Ayliff. Entrance to these districts without a permit was prohibited. However people who lived in the area and government staff, medical doctors and clergy were allowed. The national road from Kokstad to Umtata area was closed to most traffic. The police conducted full raids in the Pondoland against tax evaders. As a result of this action, many boycotters started paying their taxes. A "Bantu Home Guard" was established under the control of the chiefs. Through the Emergency measures and police action, the resistance was suppressed. The consumer boycott ended in January 1961. However, by 20 April 1961, 524 alleged participants of the rebellion remained in police detention.