Kaiser Matanzima was a chief of the Thembus. When the South African government introduced the Bantu Authorities Act in the 1950s, the Bunga, the council of Transkei chiefs, rejected it. Matanzima, however, persuaded the Bunga to accept the Act in 1955. The Act was intended by South Africa to give chiefs more local power, but at the same time use them as puppets to control the homelands. In 1963 the South African authorities granted Transkei self-government, and Matanzima was elected as chief minister. Soon afterwards, he founded the Transkeian National Independence Party with his brother, George Matanzima. Kaiser Matanzima started pressing the South African government for independence, and in 1976 Transkei was the first Black homeland to become independent, with Matanzima as Prime Minister. His brother George became the Minister of Justice. But it was independence in name only – the Transkei remained reliant on finances and military aid from South Africa, and apart from Israel and Taiwan, no other foreign country would accept its sovereignty.
In 1978 Matanzima announced that it would break all diplomatic ties with South Africa, including the non-aggression pact between them. The reason was South Africa’s refusal to give in to several territorial demands made by Matanzima. But the break was short-lived – Matanzima was soon forced to take his announcement back when he needed money from South Africa.
In 1979 Matanzima became State President and his brother George, Prime Minister. Their government used severe measures to crush opposition: in 1980, it banned the Democratic Progressive Party led by the popular Thembu king, Sabata Dalindyebo. King Sabata was convicted of violating the dignity of President Matanzima and his crown was taken away. Potential opposition in his Cabinet and the party was dismissed or demoted – for example, his defence commander, who was held in custody because of rumours of ANC links. Journalists and students were also kept under strict control. Matanzima claimed that working with the South African government was in the Transkei’s best interest, but he was often seen as a traitor to the cause of the struggle. Nelson Mandela once described him as “a sell-out in the proper sense of the word.”
Matanzima and Mandela came from the same royal family, with Matanzima being Mandela’s nephew by law and custom. They had studied together at the University of Fort Hare and were great friends, both even vying for the hand of Winnie Madikizela (whose father was part of Matanzima’s Cabinet). But they had a serious disagreement when Matanzima accepted the Bantu Act, and Matanzima was very critical of Mandela’s role in the liberation struggle. For years after Mandela’s imprisonment, however, Matanzima tried to persuade him to accept banishment to the Transkei instead of captivity. For strategic reasons Mandela never accepted an interview see him on Robben Island, as having ties with such a “sell-out” would send the wrong message to his supporters.
In 1986 the South African government forced Matanzima to retire from the presidency. He was succeeded by his brother George, who resigned after it was revealed that he was guilty of corruption. Matanzima died in 2003 in Queenstown at the age of 88. He received an official, but not a state funeral, to the dismay of former allies and supporters.
• Edgar, R. (S.l.). “Transkei”, (https://www.fb10.unibremen.de/anglistik/kerkhoff/AfrWomenWriters/Magona/
Transkei.html) (Accessed: 18 March 2004).
• Kumbaca, N. (2003). “Official funeral for Matanzima”,https://www.dispatch.co.za/2003/06/19/easterncape/cmat.html) (Accessed: 18 March 2004).
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.