DATELINE: SOUTH AFRICA

Independence takes on a cruel twist

Caryle Murphy January 11 1982
DATELINE: SOUTH AFRICA

Independence takes on a cruel twist

Caryle Murphy January 11 1982

Independence takes on a cruel twist

DATELINE: SOUTH AFRICA

Caryle Murphy

There was no malice in the pomp and ceremony of the midnight celebrations last month when Ciskei, a wedge of land about 2,000 square miles in size bounded by the Great Fish River, the Great Kei River and the Indian Ocean, became “independent.” At face value it seemed an admirable act for the white minority of South Africa to voluntarily divest itself of part of its territory so that the 2.1 million Ciskeians could have a homeland of their own. But the story of Ciskei’s independence is rather like the illicit novel covered in The Pilgrim ’s Progress jacket. All is not as it seems.

Designated as the home of blacks who speak Xhosa, the “click” language of singer Miriam Makeba, Ciskei (population 660,000), the fourth homeland to gain independence since 1976, is a good example of the inequity and impracticality of the grand design of apartheid. Since 1958 the South African government has forcibly moved an estimated 366,520 Ciskeians, 150,000 of them in the past 10 years, from their homes and jobs in “white” South Africa into Ciskei. The population density is such that subsistence agriculture has become impossible for most. An international

panel of experts who studied Ciskei’s prospects for development after independence—and concluded they were dismal—estimated that Pretoria plans to move an additional 333,000 people into Ciskei.

Though there is little doubt of Ciskei’s beauty—its hills are stunning, the rivers run strong, the land is rich—the

country’s economic outlook is bleak. It has no mineral resources; it “imports” 90 per cent of its food from South Africa; its industry consists of 37 factories employing about 4,000 people; and unemployment hovers around 40 per cent. At least 65 per cent of all personal income is earned by residents who work as contract laborers in white South Africa. Four-fifths of Prime Minister Lennox Sebe’s national budget will come from Pretoria. And a per-capita income of about $300 makes Ciskei one of the poorest countries in Africa. “Widespread poverty and destitution, unemployment, childhood malnutrition, illegitimacy and desertion are some of the norms of rural Ciskeian society,” says Trudi Thomas, a white pediatrician who has worked in Ciskei for nearly 20 years. “Migrant labor is the main reason for this social chaos.” As far as Prime Minister Sebe is concerned, South Africa “cut the economic heart out of the Ciskei” by not handing over Kingwilliamstown, a small commercial centre that was promised as the capital.

Whittlesea, Sada, Glenmore, Oxton. The names are pretty, but these rural resettlement sites, far from any prospect of employment or medical care, are not. Wind blows through the huts made

of iron or wooden slats, water comes from a communal tap, and buckets serve as toilets. The camps are rife with disease. The residents are mostly old men, women and children—the breadwinners are working in South Africa. “If you use comparisons, use concentration camps,” says Nancy Charton, a professor of political science at nearby Rhodes University. Black Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu called it “genocide.”

All this suffering is worlds away from Mzwandile Ngcelwane, but Ciskei’s independence affects him nonetheless. At 34, Ngcelwane has done well as a black man in South Africa. He is a sharp dresser, a smart talker, handsome and up-and-coming in the marketing division of Shell Oil. He drives a company car and rents a company-built house in Soweto, outside Johannesburg. Full of middle-class aspirations, he is one of those the South African government is betting on to blunt revolutionary fervor among its black population. But last month he was stripped of his South African citizenship and made a “foreigner” in the land of his birth. The Ciskei independence act, passed by the all-white parliament, states that all Ciskeians, of whom 1.4 million, like Ngcelwane, live permanently outside Ciskei, “shall cease to be South Africans.” He was forced to join the ranks of some six million other blacks already “denationalized” by the three other homeland “independences.” “It’s terrible,” said Ngcelwane. “It’s crippling me. I could not get a job there like the one I have here. And I would like to build my own home here (in Soweto), but the local authorities keep referring me to the Ciskei.” Since Ngcelwane is not a citizen of South Africa, he cannot buy land in Soweto.

A series of disquieting events has led many to speculate on the brand of freedom to be expected in Ciskei. Just one week before independence, the community hall of Zwelitsha was turned into a courtroom. The 42 defendants, all members of the militant black South African Allied Workers Labor Union (SAAWU), which has come out strongly against Ciskei’s independence, were on trial for allegedly attending an illegal meeting and disturbing the peace. They were seen raising clenched fists, denouncing Ciskei’s independence and “singing freedom songs,” according to Maj.-Gen. Charles Sebe, the head of Ciskei’s security police and brother of the prime minister. Following independence, Sebe’s government decreed that no group can be legally regarded as a political party until it has 10,000 members. And Minister of Agriculture Wilson Xaba warned that churches opposing Ciskei’s independence would be “dealt with.” “We are going to be slaves,” la-

merited one union worker, a furniture store cashier. Though she admitted she had voted in the referendum last year that gave Sebe an overwhelming “yes” to independence, she explained, “We were forced to vote; they knew if you didn’t vote yes.” The poll was boycotted by the majority of Ciskeians living outside the Ciskei.

Since the Sebes refuse to permit SAAWU offices to open in Ciskei, the union operates from the nearby white city of East London. “Charles Sebe has said SAAWU is ‘doomed’ after independence,” says Thozamile Gqweta, SAAwu’s leader. “He says the Ciskei does not need trade unions because the government will be a trade union.” Noted for his almost reckless political fearlessness, Gqweta explains, “Ciskei’s independence is going to mean more poverty and more problems for the workers, besides depriving them of their citizenship.”

For 48-year-old Charles Sebe, who many say is the power behind the throne, Gqweta is nemesis number 1. “Ciskei intelligence has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that this SAAWU is not a trade union, but a front for certain subversive banned organizations.” As he speaks it is clear that he means the African National Congress, South Africa’s underground black nationalist organization, which has operated as a guerrilla force since its banning in 1960. Sebe, who carries a gun in his briefcase, has an armed bodyguard and lives behind two barbed-wire fences patrolled by gun-toting guards, insists there will be more freedom for blacks in the Ciskei than in South Africa. “Now we are going to be on our feet. To think for ourselves, to plan for ourselves and to do things that we deem necessary for the black people.”

Despite Sebe’s enthusiasm, perhaps the best indicator that independence will not do much to change the balance of power in this part of South Africa is the large degree of serenity with which most whites living in Ciskei are accepting it. As far as they’re concerned, nothing has changed. Says Godfrey Howes, a town councillor in Kingwilliamstown: “Hopefully we can go on working as we have before. I respect the black man and think he has a place in South Africa. But in his own location, not living next to me.”

There are those who say South Africa has planted a long-fused time bomb between the Great Fish River and the Great Kei River, one that will someday blow up in its face. But to uprooted residents like Mantayi Dyaloyi, who was moved to the Glenmore site, their world has already exploded. “To the government, I am just a stone,” she says sadly. “They pick me up and move me, and I say nothing because I cannot.” £>