The Transkei

Transkei, Eastern Cape: March of the Impi - Pondo tribesmen on horseback pour into Bizana for a peaceful march-past on their way to listen to the officials report on the Government Committee's findings on the recent Pondoland disturbances (Photo: Drum Photographer © Baileys African History Archives)

Struggles against the Bantu Authorities Act were fought in the Transkei, where the resistance of the peasants culminated in the Pondo revolt which broke into the open early in 1960. At first the government pretended that nothing untoward was happening in Pondoland. But soon it became clear that a minor war was in progress.

Emergency Proclamation 400 was gazetted in 1960 and according to the official figures, 4,769 men and women were held in custody for indefinite periods during that year. Of this number, 2,067 were eventually brought to trial. (House of Assembly Debates, 27 January 1961, C. 226)

The government suppressed the revolt by bringing in the military to assist the police, by using sten-guns, Saracen armoured cars, and jets against unarmed peasants, by terrorism and mass arrests.

By that time, however, the Pondos had successfully smashed the Bantu Authorities system.

Members of the Tribal and District Authorities had fled, while peoples’ courts were dealing with collaborators, and Chiefs were in the protective custody of the government.

Why did Eastern Pondoland of all places rise in the way it did and on the scale it did? The Pondos have been well known in South African history for their allegiance to authority. There is no record of the Pondos ever having taken up arms against even the early British forces who first occupied Pondoland. On one occasion in 1895, when it seemed that a clash was inevitable over the refusal of the Pondos to pay taxes and a British punitive force was on the point of marching to Pondoland, the situation was saved by Chief Sigcau himself, who surrendered at Kokstad and was subsequently transported to Robben Island.

From these early days successive governments have allowed Pondo Chiefs a much greater measure of control over the tribal structure than elsewhere. Here, as probably nowhere else, the missionaries, most of them from the Wesleyan Church, exercised great influence over the principal Chiefs. Chiefs’ sons, the heirs to chieftainship, were trained at the homes of the White missionaries, many living with them as members of their families. On the completion of their apprenticeship, they returned to their people, bringing vigour and a new approach to the conduct of chieftainship.

Both at Qaukeni (Eastern Pondoland) and Nyandeni (Western Pondoland), the Chiefs erected modern offices and conducted cases on the pattern of a magistrate’s court. With slight modifications to adapt the pattern to heal conditions, the Pondo courts had officers, a dock, a fairly good recording of proceedings, and proper systems of filing.

For a long time the Pondo Paramount Chiefs were the only Chiefs in the Transkei with civil jurisdiction. They exercised real power over the distribution of land within the framework of government policy, and they used these comparatively wide powers to entrench their chieftainship. Up to the time that Bantu Authorities were introduced the people contributed to the Chiefs’ treasuries with little complaint.

Then the Nationalist government moved to invade the area with its new policies, and from the very start it went wrong, making the serious mistake of choosing as the arch-champion of Bantu Authorities Chief Botha Sigcau, a man already discredited in the eyes of his people. As far back as 1939, when the choice had had to be made of a successor to the Paramount Chief of East Pondoland the government of the day had picked on Chief Botha in preference to his half-brother Nelson, who had been regarded by many as the rightful heir. The use of Chief Botha by the Nationalists to introduce Bantu Authorities, in the face of popular opposition to his chieftainship, was bound to provoke widespread resentment.

Last updated : 08-Aug-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 10-Jun-2011