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14— Ethnicity and Pseudo-Ethnicity in the Ciskei
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Ethnicity and Pseudo-Ethnicity in the Ciskei


Introduction: The Ciskei's Land and People

The Ciskei is unique among the South African Bantustan 'homelands' in that it has absolutely no basis in any ethnic, cultural or linguistic fact whatsoever. Unlike Bophuthatswana, KwaZulu, Venda and other territories which are the designated homelands of speakers of the Tswana, Zulu, Venda and other languages, there is no distinctive Ciskeian language and there is no distinctive Ciskeian nationality. The inhabitants of the Ciskei speak Xhosa, as do the inhabitants of the Transkei homeland, but whereas the Transkei leadership rejects the concept of a specifically Transkeian identity and calls for a single greater Xhosaland, the Ciskei government of President Lennox Sebe tries to legitimize itself through the creation of a wholly artificial Ciskeian ethnicity. It is the aim of this paper to trace the origins and progress of this vain attempt.

The Ciskei, as its name implies, is a block of territory situated on the side of the Kei River closest to the old Cape Colony of which it once formed part.[2] It is separated from the Transkei by a wedge of European-owned land running from South Africa's tenth-largest city, East London, through King Williams Town and up to Queenstown. This strip, usually referred to as 'the white corridor', was carved out of Xhosa territory during the frontier wars of the nineteenth century. If current proposals are duly implemented, the Ciskei will eventually consist of some 8300 square kilometres. This area contained in 1980 a resident population of some 650,000, a population density of 126 to the square kilometre—the highest of any South African homeland except for Qwa Qwa.[3] Over one-third of this population is urban, concentrated around the centres of Mdantsane and Zwelitsha which are nothing but dormitory suburbs for the white corridor cities of East London and King Williams Town respectively.

Over 1,400,000 people classified by the South African government as Ciskeian reside beyond the borders of the Ciskei.[4] It is the policy of the apartheid regime to dump as many as possible of these 'surplus people' into the Ciskei. At least 160,000 of the Ciskei's population has been there for less than ten years, an average influx of about 15,000 a year.[5] Most of these are housed in huge resettlement complexes around Hewu and King Williams Town districts, and new resettlement camps are still springing up. The Surplus People Project Survey of 1980 revealed high unemployment rates of over 30 per cent in most Ciskeian centres, with most people eking out a bare subsistence on poor, starchy diets.[6] The state has attempted to alleviate the situation by encouraging industrial development in the Ciskei, but its system of incentives has done more for the


capitalist entrepreneurs involved than for the mass of the Ciskeian poor.

The Ciskei/white corridor area was the scene of intense black-white contact in schoolhouse and marketplace, and on the battlefield, throughout South Africa's frontier period. The dogged resistance of the Rharhabe Xhosa held the line against Colonial invaders for more than a century, longer than any other southern African anti-colonial resistance.[7] At the same time, the region also experienced extensive missionary activity. Mission schools such as Lovedale and Healdtown paved the way for the college at Fort Hare, founded in 1915, which became the subcontinent's premier institution for African higher education until its seizure by the South African government in 1959. Rural districts such as Peddie and Keiskammahoek nurtured an independent commercial peasantry, which still flourished at the turn of the century.[8] Elected headmen and literate spokesmen replaced old-style hereditary chiefs as the true representatives of this new class. Newspaper editors and politicians such as J. T. Jabavu and W.B. Rubusana were prominent in Cape politics during the days of the African franchise, and they laid the foundations for twentieth century progressive political movements in South Africa.[9]

The emergence of the revived African National Congress (ANC) in the 1940s effectively fused the resistance and the educational traditions in the Eastern Cape region. East London has been a stronghold of the ANC since the Defiance Campaign of 1952, and ANC leaders Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki are all Xhosa-speakers, as was Robert Sobukwe, the founder of the Pan-Africanist Congress.[10] King Williams Town was the home of Steve Biko and the spiritual centre of the black consciousness movement during the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, the workers of East London have given strong support to the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU), which began to organize in the city in the late 1970s.[11] The significance of this is that the region which now forms part of the Ciskei has a deep-rooted historical tradition of fierce resistance to colonial domination which transcends ethnic boundaries and pre-colonial political structures and is now closely linked with a broad South African nationalism. Moreover, as a recent commentator remarked, 'The East Cape's unique combination of a high level of education and a low level of subsistence has always made it one of the most inflammable regions of South Africa.'[12]

The Ciskei Versus the Transkei in Historical Perspective

It is impossible to say with any certainty why the Xhosa-speaking people have been divided between the two rival Bantustans of Ciskei and Transkei. The most common popular explanation is that this is an example of 'divide and rule', and that its main purpose is the preservation of East London and the white corridor. I do not agree. The division of Bophuthatswana into six pieces has never posed any problems for its white neighbours, and the South African government has stated with apparent truth that it would not oppose a merger. The separation of the Ciskei from the Transkei is more probably the result of the sort of political accident which can occur in even the best-regulated of societies.

After the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act in 1959, Dr Verwoerd, the arch-proponent of the grand apartheid design, was keen to present the world with a practical demonstration of the wisdom of his policies in the form of an independent homeland. The Transkei was almost perfect for his purposes. It was a large contiguous territory, ethnically homogeneous and largely rural, governed by hard-line pro-government chiefs such as Kaiser D. Matanzima and possessing in the Transkeian Territories General Council a vaguely representative body which


could, when suitably adjusted, serve as a fig-leaf for autocratic control. The Ciskei was totally different. It consisted at the time of a number of distinct black 'reserves' interspersed in patchwork style with pockets of white-owned farms and towns. Even in the rural areas, elected headmen had largely replaced hereditary chiefs, and the most visible and articulate spokesmen of black interests lived in towns and wanted nothing to do with the so-called Bantu Authorities. Whereas the Transkei was virtually tailor-made for apartheid-style independence as early as 1963, the Ciskei obviously still had a long way to go. In the urgency which surrounded the launching of the Transkei—Self-Government in 1963 and 'Independence' in 1976—the problem of the Xhosa communities of the Ciskei was temporarily shelved, and when it finally recalled itself to official attention, it did so as a separate problem.

The Ciskeian government grew out of the old Ciskeian General Council established in 1934.[13] In 1961, this was reconstituted as the Ciskei Territorial Authority under the Bantu Authorities policy, and Proclamation R143 of 1968 created an Executive Committee of six ministers and the basis of an autonomous civil service. The first Chief Councillor was Justice Mabandla, chief of the Bhele Mfengu people. In 1972 Lennox Sebe, a member of the cabinet, broke with Mabandla and started his own political party, the Ciskei National Independence Party (CNIP). This was victorious in the 1973 elections, largely due to the connivance of the South African electoral officers. Mabandla's party, the Ciskei National Party, crumbled away in the face of Sebe's impregnable position. Two other opposition parties were started, but neither got off the ground. In 1978 the remaining opposition members, including Mabandla himself, crossed the floor and the Ciskei officially became a one-party state. After a rigged referendum in December 1980, the Ciskei accepted South Africa's version of independence in December 1982.[14] Prophetically, the new Ciskeian flag collapsed the first time it was raised. Mounting opposition in schools, streets and factories led the President to confer increasingly arbitrary powers on his half-brother, Charles Sebe, the commander of the dreaded Ciskei Central Intelligence Service. Charles's power grew steadily for about eighteen months until his vaulting ambition, in the form of an assassination plot, brought his downfall in June 1983. Shortly thereafter, the violent attempts of the Ciskeian authorities to suppress a bus boycott in Mdantsane precipitated a bloody conflict between government and people.[15]

Ever since the fall of Charles Sebe, President Lennox Sebe has ruled alone. Rumours concerning the poor state of his health and the unusual medication he is said to require are fuelled by the fact that, alone in the entire Ciskeian cabinet, the Minister of Health is usually a white. The dissolution in 1985 of a Committee of Four, which screened development proposals before they reached the President's eyes, opened the way for a number of highly dubious entrepreneurs, many of them Israelis, who milked the Ciskeian government for two straight years.[16]

The meteoric promotion to the rank of Major-General of Sebe's only son, Khwane, leads one to suppose that the President is grooming him for the succession. His last rival, Lent Maqoma, was dismissed from the cabinet in January 1985. After the effective suppression of his Ciskei People's Rights Protection Party, Maqoma fled to the Transkei where he plotted the overthrow of the Sebe dynasty with the help of the Matanzima brothers. A spectacular double coup in September 1986, which effected the kidnapping of Khwane Sebe to the Transkei and freed Charles Sebe from his maximum security prison, was nullified in February 1987 when a daring attack on Sebe's presidential palace was foiled by his guards. The South African government intervened to end the squabbles of its


vassals. The Transkei was warned off, and Lennox Sebe's position in the Ciskei now seems stronger than ever.[17]

These are the bare bones of the Ciskei's political history. We now turn to the role of ethnicity in shaping the course of these events.

Mfengu-Rharhabe Rivalry and the Rise of Lennox Sebe

Conventionally, one distinguishes between two ethnic groups in the Ciskei: the Rharhabe Xhosa, who are descended from the first Bantu-speaking people to inhabit the area, and the Mfengu, a generic name for several distinct groupings of associated clans who fled from Zululand during the time of King Shaka (1818–1828) and settled in the eastern Cape.[18] It is important to emphasize that members of both these groups are to be found in the Transkei as well as the Ciskei: they cannot be characterized as distinctly Ciskeian peoples. Initial cultural differences between Rharhabe and Mfengu—for example, that the Mfengu pierced the ears and the Xhosa did not—have long since faded into insignificance. They have been overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of the year 1835, when the Mfengu were persuaded by the missionary Ayliff to desert their Xhosa patrons and seek Colonial protection.

On the 14 May 1835, the Mfengu gathered under an old milkwood tree in Peddie district and swore a great oath to obey the Queen, to accept Christianity, and to educate their children. This oath was to have momentous consequences. The Mfengu fought alongside the Colonial forces in all the Frontier Wars and were rewarded by extensive tracts of Rharhabe land. As the better-educated and more European-oriented group, they naturally secured the bulk of elite positions as clerks, teachers, peasants, and petty traders that were available to blacks in an elective system based on merit and achievement, as opposed to the pre-colonial Xhosa pattern of strong hereditary chiefs. They viewed themselves as the bearers of a great universal Christian Civilization, and tended to regard the Rharbabe and other Xhosa as backward and uncivilized. Every 14 May since 1907 has been celebrated as Fingo Emancipation Day, with a ceremony held under the old milkwood tree where the Mfengu oath was sworn.

The Rharhabe, for their part, resented Mfengu predominance in the professions and salaried posts, their hold on the headmanships and other organs of local political authority, and their control of land which had formerly belonged to the Xhosa. S.E.K. Mqhayi, the Xhosa national poet, accused the Mfengu of celebrating Fingo Emancipation on the anniversary of the very day that the revered Xhosa king Hintsa was murdered and mutilated by Colonial forces in 1835. In 1909, the Xhosa responded with a memorial celebration dedicated to Ntsikana (d. 1821), the first local prophet of Christianity, who was a Rharhabe Xhosa. The rivalry between Rharhabe and Mfengu, originating in Frontier Wars and sustained by economic and social competition ever since, thus found institutional expression as far back as the turn of this century.

The National Party's policy of retribalization, first expressed in the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951, aimed at pulling down the remnants of the old Cape liberal tradition and its concept of universal equality grounded in common Christian and democratic ideals and replacing it with a tamed and deformed version of pre-colonial political discipline hinging on chieftainship. This development obviously threatened the Mfengu, who had been the main beneficiaries of the Cape tradition, and offered opportunities to the Rharhabe whose ancient rights and long discarded chieftainships had been fully recorded in the old books and documents that government ethnologists now rediscovered. A new spirit of


self-assertiveness entered the Rharhabe ranks, and the return of the Rharhabe Paramountcy from eighty years of exile beyond me Kei became the occasion of deliberate public insults directed against the Mfengu.

Ironically, it was the Mfengu attempt to preempt their Rharhabe rivals which precipitated their downfall. Justice Mabandla, who was both a Mfengu hereditary chief and an educated man, seemed to accommodate both government and Mfengu aspirations. Uncomfortably aware that the new dispensation played into Rharhabe hands, in 1968 Mbandla and his associates issued a 'Fingo Manifesto', in which they requested that the Mfengu be regarded as entirely independent of the Rharhabe, and that representation in the coming 'New Deal' arrangements outlined by the Proclamation R143 of 1968 should be structured along ethnic lines. The South African government was not averse to stirring up ethnic hatreds and the Commissioner General made a public attack on the Xhosa during the Fingo Emancipation celebration of 1969. The New Deal Executive was explicitly made up of two Mfengu, two Rharhabe, one Sotho and one Thembu. With the excision of Herschel and Glen Grey districts, which became part of the Transkei in 1976, the latter groups lost their political significance.

Mabandia was Chief Executive. Sebe, the leading Rharhabe, was Minister of Education. They did not work well together. Mbandia accused Sebe of holding secret meetings and plotting against his government. Sebe accused Mabandla of ethnic favouritism and of blocking the applications of Rharhabe chiefs for government recognition. When Sebe was dropped to the less glamorous Agriculture portfolio, he began to organize his own political party, the Ciskei National Independence Party (CNIP), for the upcoming 1973 elections. The CNIP was backed by almost all those Rharhabe who were prepared to accept Bantu Authorities. The other Xhosa member of the Executive Council, L.S. Mtoba, stayed with Mabandla, as did the Rharhabe Paramount Chief, Bazindhlovu Sandile. But the presence of such prominent Rharhabe in his ranks did not help Mabandla. 'Why should we be ruled by a Fingo?' the CNIP asked, and by persistently beating on the ethnic drum, they awakened the historical and material grievances of the Rharhabe and rallied them to Sebe's cause.

Resettlement and Ethnicity

The CNIP victory in the 1973 elections was almost certainly the result of a South African governmental decision, as is shown by the role of South African officials in committing electoral irregularities on Sebe's behalf.[19] One can only speculate as to why South Africa preferred Sebe. Mabandla was docile enough, though his performance as Chief Executive had been weak and unimpressive. On the other hand, certain long-term factors were working in Sebe's favour. These were intimately connected with South Africa's policies of retribalization and resettlement and it is appropriate to discuss them in some detail.

We have already seen that the frontier wars of the nineteenth century resulted in the wholesale destruction of the old Rharhabe chiefdoms and the confiscation of their lands. Some of these were given to the Colony's Mfengu allies and the rest were distributed to white settlers. In order to confer some sort of geopolitical unity on the Ciskei, the South African government was forced to embark on a massive programme of reallocating territory, officially termed the 'consolidation of the Ciskei'. Briefly the idea is to join up most of the scattered patches of black-owned land by purchasing some 300,000 hectares of adjacent white farmland, while knocking out eleven 'awkwardly situated Bantu areas' in the white corridor. Even though much of this land has been earmarked for the


accommodation of people resettled from the white corridor, it nevertheless represents a significant increase in the extent of land nominally allocated to blacks in the region. The better part of these lands will be farmed on a commercial basis by Ciskei parastatals, and the rest will probably degenerate into resettlement camps.[20]

One cannot even begin to discuss the horrifying implications of mass relocation in a paper on ethnicity. Here it is only pertinent to remark that relatively few persons are thrown into resettlement camps by direct government action: bulldozers, armed policemen, people carted away by the truckload. The majority of resettled persons are rendered homeless by the apparently impersonal application of regulations: no work permit, no residence rights, papers not in order, and so forth. In particular, tens of thousands of displaced agricultural labourers, forced from the white-owned farms on which their families had resided for generations, have no legal place of residence outside of their designated homeland, and no family links even there. For people in such desperate straits, even a resettlement camp appears to be something of a refuge.[21]

The purchase of white farmland and the influx of displaced persons from the white rural areas created the necessary opportunity for the resuscitation of several old Rharhabe chieftainships which had been in abeyance since the Ninth, and last, Frontier War of 1877–8.[22] Government ethnologist A. O. Jackson has indicated that aspirant chiefs need to fulfil the following practical requirements:

The claimant's right to be regarded as a chief must be demonstrated genealogically. He must have a sufficiently large following and his following must have its own territory in which it lives.[23]

Genealogical demonstration was never a problem. Among the Xhosa, all sons of chiefs became chiefs. An important chief like Ngqika (d . 1829) might generate five chiefly lineages which are still recognized today. Every one of the literally thousands of members of the royal Tshawe clan is entitled to chieftainship somewhere along the line—if only he can find a territory and a following. Once South Africa started adding land and people to the Ciskei, this problem was easily solved. New chieftainships were established in one of three possible ways.

First, the population of a given location could reject the authority of their officially recognized chief and invite in a new chief. The Rharhabe of Gqumahashe, Victoria East, for example, had long campaigned for the return of the old Tyhali chieftainship to supersede the authority of their recognized chief, the Mfengu Justice Mabandla. Second, where white farmlands were allocated for black resettlement, aspirant chiefs with enough influence could claim the newly released land as their ancestral home, and thus acquire both territory and following in one fell swoop. Thus after the South African authorities had decided to turn the farm vacated by a Mr Fetter into Ndevana resettlement camp, President Sebe himself was able to recognize the farm as his long lost ancestral land and its people as his own personal chiefdom, the amaKhambashe.[24] Third, when individuals settled in a rural area as tenants or squatters without permanent land rights, these newcomers might band together under an ethnic banner and claim to be a single 'tribe', having historical rights. This occurred in Nyaniso, Peddie district (always a Mfengu area), where the newcomers were incited by an aspirant chief with a fake pedigree to declare themselves members of the Gwali chiefdom and thus claim historical rights from their unfortunate Mfengu hosts.[25]

Altogether, eight new Rharhabe chieftainships and one new Mfengu chieftainship were created. All went to Sebe supporters. Some of these (Gqunukhwebe, Ngcangathelo, imiNgxalase) were the products of long-pressed


claims which had considerable historical justification, but question marks hang over some of the others. Chief Lent Maqoma, for instance, descends from his illustrious ancestor through a female. Yet he was preferred to other members of his family with stronger claims. Claims from Transkei chiefs too closely associated with the anti-Sebe Rharhabe Paramount Chief (Anta, for instance, or the amaMbalu) were overlooked. S. M. Burns-Ncamashe, a highly educated man with an outstanding knowledge of history, wrote up most of the chieftainship applications and slipped in one for himself as well. Initially he tried to pass himself off as a chief of the old, but small and obscure Hleke lineage, but the existing amaHleke would not have him. He then successfully prevailed on the head of the almost defunct Gwali lineage, a timid and illiterate village sub-headman in the Transkei, to recognize him as the head of the amaGwali in the Ciskei. This claim is regarded with some cynicism by those who remember the young Ncamashe as a member of the non-royal Kwayi clan.[26]

The most noteworthy case of contrived chieftainship is that of President Sebe himself. Sebe was regarded by his schoolfellows at Lovedale as a member of the royal Tshawe clan, but not as a chief. Indeed Paramount Chief Sandile once taunted Sebe with being a commoner, and this may have decided him to seek a title of his own. In March 1977, he declared that his great-grandfather had been awarded chieftainship by Chief Phatho because of his heroism in 1847 in the War of the Axe. This is historically possible, but it would give Sebe a rank infinitely junior to the many biological descendants of Chief Phatho who remain without chieftainships. Later during the year, Sebe came up with a better idea. This time he claimed descent from a certain Chief Tyarha, who probably lived in the middle of the eighteenth century, but concerning whom literally nothing is known.[27] This second claim is almost certainly fictitious. Indeed, the President's own brother, Charles Sebe, declared after his disgrace that Lennox's father was not a Sebe after all but a Dhlamini (that is, a common Mfengu clan name). The traditional territory of the hitherto unknown Khambashe chiefdom turned out, by wonderful coincidence, to be Fetter's farm, later Ndevana resettlement camp. By 1984 there were at least 50,000 people living in appalling conditions at Ndevana, but this was unlikely to have distressed the President for he had only visited the place once during his first three years as its chief. He has never visited the resettlement camp at Tswele-tswele, also within his tribal area, whose 8,000 inhabitants were attracted by the unfulfilled promises of his agents.[28] The benign view of resettlement taken by Sebe and other Ciskeian chiefs may not be unconnected with the fact that their salary is directly linked to the number of their adherents. They therefore have a real financial stake in forced resettlements.[29]

The appointment of nine pro-Sebe chiefs turned Sebe's razor-thin majority of between 24 and 26 in the Ciskei Legislative Assembly into a comfortable margin. This doomed Mabandla's party to eternal opposition, and caused the hasty defection of its members into the government ranks. The early Sebe had done extremely well out of his espousal of a narrow, Mfengu-bashing, Rharhabe ethnicity. It had secured him his Parliamentary majority and his own personal chieftainship as well.

Lennox Sebe Changes His Tune

One of the first things that Lennox Sebe did after attaining a position of unquestionable power was to attempt to heal the ugly breach between Rharhabe and Mfengu which he himself had done so much to inflame. Sebe had always had some Mfengu supporters, notably the Zizi chief, Njokweni, whose support—said


to have been purchased by a bribe—gave him his first narrow majority. Sebe sought to extend this support by placing pro-Sebe candidates into vacant Mfengu headmanships and regencies, and he eventually welcomed the whole opposition party, including the wretched Mabandla, into the CNIP. The annual Fingo Emancipation and Ntsikana Day ceremonies were suppressed because they 'divided the Ciskei nation along ethnic lines'.[30] President Sebe now aimed to build a new and united nation owing allegiance to neither Rharhabe nor Mfengu ethnic loyalties, but united in a single ciskeian nationalism. It is possible, of course, that the President was motivated exclusively by a desire to promote peace and harmony, and that he perceived the dangerous possibilities of uncontrolled ethnic hatreds. But there were other factors as well, and these must be considered in turn.

One major anomaly in Sebe's role as champion of the Rharhabe cause was the uncompromising hostility of the Rharhabe Paramount Chief, Bazindhlovu Sandile. This is not as strange as it might seem. The Sandile family was exiled to the Transkei after the Frontier War of 1877–8, and it only returned in 1961, thanks to the apartheid policy of boosting traditional authorities. Though acknowledged as Paramounts of all the Rharhabe, the Sandile family nevertheless possessed no territory or subjects under their direct control and were regarded as possibly dangerous interlopers by the Ciskei Rharhabe chiefs. Bazindhlovu Sandile, who ascended the Rharhabe throne in 1969, was a weak, colourless man who drank too much and lacked the stature of his late father.

His youth had been passed among the Transkei Rharhabe chiefs, and he recognized the seniority of the Transkei-based Gcaleka branch of the Tshawe royal clan. The political insignificance of the Transkei Rharhabe exiles had, moreover, led them to exalt hereditary rank and faithful adherence to the old customs above the sort of power games and backstairs intrigue endemic in homeland politics. Bazindhlovu rejected Sebe as an upstart commoner, and somewhat naïvely called on his people to follow their Paramount Chief. His view of ubuRharhabe (Rharhabe-hood) thus far transcended the Ciskei in both space and time. It could even be argued that the Sandile family represented an authentic historical tradition of Rharhabe ethnicity, which was incompatible with the bogus pseudo-tradition inherent in any South African-sponsored ethnic homeland.

Bazindhlovu Sandile died suddenly and prematurely in April 1976.[31] Whereas Bazindhlovu alive was an acute embarrassment to the Ciskeian authorities, Bazindhlovu dead might well have proved an asset. The noble chief Sandile (d . 1878) was precisely the sort of folk-hero whom Sebe and his friends professed to respect, and they wished to co-opt his name into the emerging Ciskei pantheon through the support of his descendants. The Sandile family wished to give Bazindhlovu a traditional funeral at which his Transkei Rharhabe relatives and the Gcaleka Paramount Xolilizwe Sigcawu would all be present. The Ciskei government wanted a Ciskei state funeral at which no 'outsiders' (that is, Transkeians) would be present. A strong CNIP delegation travelled up to the mourning Great Place and demanded the body. Fortunately, the family had already deposited it with a firm of white undertakers. The CNIP men then demanded the body from the undertakers who, forewarned by the Sandile family, refused to give it up. Unable to stop the funeral, the Ciskei government obstructed it as far as possible by refusing to assign earth-moving equipment and by initially refusing to contribute a state subsidy.

Xolilizwe Sigcawu, the Transkei-based king of all the Xhosa, was present at the funeral. So were Sebe and the CNIP. But when Xolilizwe announced that Bazindhlovu's widow would carry on as Regent for her minor son according to


Xhosa custom. Chief L.W. Maqoma rose on the government side. This was something for the 'Rharhabe Tribunal', a pro-CNIP body, he said, not a matter for the family or outsiders to decide. Chief Maqoma himself was, in fact, the CNIP's man for the job. The family nominated Bazindhlovu's widow. To no one's surprise, the government ethnologist supported Maqoma who remained Regent until he fell from Sebe's favour in 1978. In 1987 there is still no sign of the installation of Bazindhlovu's son, Maxhoba, although he is past thirty. This suggests that, for all his vaunted traditionalism, Sebe still sees the Rharhabe paramountcy as a wild card and a potential threat to his exclusive monopoly of legitimacy.

The tragic farce of Bazindhlovu's funeral was repeated at that of his chief councillor, Isaac Sangotsha. Sangotsha had been an active figure in opposition politics until the collapse of the Mabandla party when, an old man, he retired to his country home. A fervent Catholic, Sangotsha refused to attend Easter services at Ntaba kaNdoda (see below) and, almost alone in his village, he went to church on Good Friday. He must have been somewhat indiscreet in his opinions because he was picked up by the police. He returned, broken in health and spirit and died soon thereafter in July 1982. The Ciskei government offered to pay for the funeral and arrange the programme. The Master of Ceremonies was the then Ciskei Vice-President, the Reverend Wilson Xaba, who delivered a sermon on the theme, 'He made some mistakes, but he was one of us.' Isaac Sangotsha was buried in a beautiful coffin by the very men he most hated and struggled against. In the Ciskei one cannot even call one's body one's own.

Returning to our main theme, there was yet another reason for Sebe to abandon a Rharhabe ethnic posture. In as much as me CNIP was an ethnic party expressing pro-Rharhabe, anti-Mfengu sentiments, it was truly a party of like-minded individuals working for common goals. Sebe was the leader, but the party had a raison d'être independent of his personal will and ambition. Men such as S.M. Burns-Ncamashe, L.F. Siyo, A.Z. Lamani and L.W. Maqoma gave their loyalty to the CNIP rather than to L.L.W. Sebe, and they regarded themselves as potential leaders of that party. They saw the election victory of 1973 as a triumph for the CNIP rather than a vote of confidence in Sebe personally. Sebe, however, wished to rule alone. He disliked the corporate nature of his party and wanted to turn it into a patronage machine dependent entirely on himself. First Bums-Ncamashe, in 1975, and then Siyo, in 1977, were pushed out of the CNIP. Prominent hereditary chiefs Maqoma and Jongilanga were shuffled around the ministries so as to remind them of their utter dependence on the word of Sebe. Political nonentities such as A.M. Tapa and Sebe's brother-in-law, Simon Hebe, whose only conceivable qualification for office was their loyalty to the President, were elevated to positions of power. The promotion of selected Mfengu, including arch-rival Mabandla, to the cabinet was an integral part of Sebe's strategy of replacing government by party with government by patronage. Sebe knew that he could count on the absolute loyalty of his Mfengu recruits, who depended entirely on him for support against their Rharhabe rivals and their own betrayed followers. Dropping his anti-Mfengu rhetoric was a small price to pay for the broadening of his support.

The Threat From Transkei

Long before Transkei 'independence' in 1976, Transkei President Matanzima demanded the amalgamation of the Transkei and the Ciskei into a single greater Xhosa homeland.[32] It was generally agreed on both sides of the Kei river that the


Transkei, being much the larger, wealthier and more populous, would swallow up the Ciskei in any merger which might take place. Matanzima was openly willing to sponsor any Ciskei politician who supported amalgamation, and it is rumoured that Mabandla, Sebe and L.F. Siyo all received Transkeian aid while they were in opposition. The Transkei assembly passed a motion unilaterally annexing the Ciskei, and Transkei paid the costs of two Supreme Court legal battles against the establishment of a second Xhosa homeland.

Although Matanzima is not a popular figure in the Ciskei, many people are well-disposed towards unification. 'We are all one people,' they tend to say, if the subject of unification is broached, and they regard the creation of two separate Xhosa states as a device to ensure the safety of the white corridor. Ciskei government spokesmen struggle to answer the case for unification. Clearly they cannot state publicly that they fear for their power and their positions. Vice-President Willie Xaba, using the Afrikaans word 'suiwer', argued that the Ciskeians were 'pure' Xhosa, whereas the Transkei consisted of mixed Xhosaspeaking tribes.[33] In the Supreme Court, Ciskei counsel stated that Ciskeian ethnic groups were 'independent' of Transkeian ethnic groups. These arguments collapse in the face of the existence of the Transkei Rharhabe and the traditional subordination of the Rharhabe to the Transkei-based Gcaleka royal house. As for the Mfengu, there are four Mfengu magisterial districts in the Transkei, which together constitute a Regional Authority known as Fingoland. Clearly the Ciskei government urgently required a national identity for the Ciskei which sharply differentiated it from the Transkei.

The years since the Soweto Uprising of 1976 have seen an upsurge in public opposition to the Ciskei authorities. School boycotts in 1976, 1977, 1980 and 1983; riots at Fort Hare, including an attack on Sebe's motorcade; trade union organization; clandestine ANC paramilitary activity; and the bloody Mdantsane bus boycott of 1983—all indicate the growing disaffection of the mass of the so-called 'Ciskeian' population who never accepted ethnicity or homelands in the first place. Sebe was forced to close down his own alma mater at Lovedale and the old mission institution of Healdtown. He is clearly perturbed by his lack of appeal to the rising generation, and his calls to 'the youth' are not without a touch of pathos:

We need our youth in our nation-building . . . they must stop their revolt now as the bright day of justice emerges. . . . When the clarion calls to defend our great South Africa against the ever-increasing Communism threat, the great Ciskeians will be the first to defend the temples of our fathers, the shrines of this country.[34]

Ciskei clearly faced a crisis of legitimacy. It lacked any basis in historical reality, popular support or educated opinion, and it had been forced to supress whatever genuine ethnic feeling had once existed. The Ciskei nation had to be created from scratch.

Pseudo-Ethnicity: The 'Making' of a 'Nation'

The central feature of Sebe's new Ciskeian nationalist ideology is the Temple' or 'national shrine' at Ntaba kaNdoda ("Mountain of Man'), a somewhat overgrown foothill of the Amatole range about 30 kilometres from King Williams Town. The national shrine is the personal brainchild of the President, conceived during a visit to Mount Massada in Israel in 1977.[35] Every self-respecting nation had something to worship:


In Egypt, it's the Nile; in Kenya, it's Mount Kenya; in India, it's the cow; in America, it's the national flag.[36]

In the Ciskei, it was Ntaba kaNdoda.

The place for the national shrine was probably suggested by S.E.K. Mqhayi's well-known poem, studied by every Xhosa school-child, which says that the old chiefs and diviners used to point to Ntaba kaNdoda and that it was a place where the Xhosa High God Qamata heard his people:

You should bless this Ntaba kaNdoda!
You should wish good grace to Ntaba kaNdoda!
I speak to you, nations of the Xhosa,
You are the great nations of the Creation.[37]

So far, so good. But Mqhayi nowhere mentions the word 'Ciskei'. The poet (d . 1945) was a leading figure in the Ntsikana Day celebrations, and his 'Intaba kaNdoda' is above all a Rharhabe poem. Nor is it true, as Sebe often claims, that Ntaba kaNdoda was the scene of the last stand by the bold Ciskeian warriors against the Colonial invaders. That honour belongs more correctly to the isiDenge forests, which are not even within the boundaries of the modern Ciskei, and which are, in any case, too closely associated with the descendants of Chief Sandile, who lies buried there. On the whole, however, one cannot dispute that, if one is determined to have a national shrine in the Ciskei, Ntaba kaNdoda is as good a place as any other.

It is when we come to the shrine itself and the ceremonies associated with it, that the equivocation really starts. Unlike the centralized Zulu kingdom, the Xhosa lacked any great capital or politico-religious centre. Each of the many chiefs had his own Great Place, but even this was barely distinguishable from the common man's homestead.[38] The Xhosa did not build in stone, and had no great annual ceremonies such as the first-fruits celebrations further north. Even prayers for rain, the only occasion on which the Xhosa normally invoked the High God, were usually held on a chiefly rather than an ethnic basis. Despite, or perhaps because of, this singular lack of precedent, President Sebe decided that a massive complex costing at least R.860,000 and built by LTA (Ciskei)[39] —a company in which several Ciskei cabinet ministers enjoy directorships—was the most appropriate expression of the Ciskeian spirit.

The National Shrine consists of an auditorium for conferences and party congresses and an 18,000-seat arena for public events centred on a huge symbolic structure of uncertain import, which vaguely resembles a pair of upended half-open pliers. There is also a Heroes' Acre, a graveyard where the future heroes of the nation will be buried, including all the chiefs. Not all the chiefs are equally enthusiastic about this honour, and at least one prominent pro-Sebe Mfengu chief refused outright.[40] Ntaba kaNdoda is further garnished with a beautiful full-size statue of President Sebe himself.[41] Part of the bill was presumably underwritten by the South African government, the rest being funded by compulsory deductions from the salaries of public servants and endless extortions from private citizens.

The public ceremonies certainly seem to owe more to Biblical references than to Xhosa religion. The new buildings are freely referred to as the Temple, often in a pseudo-Biblical context.[42] Goats, not cattle, are the preferred sacrificial animal. Easter weekend is the chosen time for national services.

Until the building of a new capital at Bisho (see below), most official ceremonies, such as party congresses and passing-out parades, were held at Ntaba


kaNdoda. Even a nurses' ceremony, held to commemorate the registration of the first black nurse, was formally transferred from the hospital where she had qualified to the holy Temple.[43]

A wise person says, 'If you are proud of your nation you should make your presence visible on Ntaba kaNdoda.'[44]

This comment appeared in the Ciskei government's propaganda organ, Umthombo, and is true in more ways than one. Attendance at Ntaba kaNdoda functions is obligatory for all civil servants, teachers, headmen, people holding Ciskei or parastatal business licences, and all aspirants to such positions. Those who do not make their presence visible are sure to be reported by rival associates and patronage seekers. When the people of Zwelitsha threatened to boycott the Independence Celebrations in 1985, Sebe personally threatened to cut off the town's electricity and water.[45]

Despite all the emphasis on the warrior chiefs of old, only three of Sebe's leading followers had any ancestry worth boasting about. Of these, Chief Lent Whyte Maqoma was the most ambitious.[46] He was descended, albeit somewhat circuitously, from indubitably the greatest of the nineteenth-century fighting chiefs. The original Maqoma (d . 1873) had perished alone on Robben Island, the only man that the Imperial government never dared to release. Lent Maqoma had substantial personal support in Port Elizabeth and the Fort Beaufort/Adelaide areas. He was appointed Acting Chief of the Rharhabe after Bazindhlovu's death. When Siyo and his friends were expelled from the CNIP in 1977, Lent became the obvious Number Two to Sebe in the CNIP hierarchy. Indeed, he was a little too obvious. Sebe did not like any authority not stemming directly from himself.

Lent Maqoma seems to have been genuinely interested in the ancestor to whom he owed his high position. Acting on his own initiative, he launched a campaign to bring back old Maqoma's bones from Robben Island. After all efforts by officials and historians to locate Maqoma's remains had failed. Lent engaged an albino seer named Charity Sonandi who allegedly discovered a few manacled bones on Robben Island to the accompaniment of rainfall, thunder and lightning. These supposed remains were loaded on a South African warship and carried off to Ntaba kaNdoda for a hero's burial in August 1978. Sebe gave the keynote address, but, in retrospect, it is clear that he hated every minute of it. Admittedly, the occasion was a copybook example of everything he had ever said about the link between the old chiefs and Ciskei nationhood, but clearly the hero of the hour was L.W. Maqoma and not L.L.W. Sebe. The reinterment simply highlighted the contrast between Maqoma's noble birth and Sebe's own extremely suspect ancestry. Maqoma had stolen Sebe's thunder on the President's very own mountain.

After a decent pause, Sebe reasserted his authority. An officially approved public demonstration—the only one of its kind ever held in Zwelitsha—of homeless people was organized to protest against Lent's performance as Minister responsible for Housing. Maqoma was demoted to a less important portfolio, and his closest cabinet colleague, W. Ximiya, was removed altogether. His son-in-law and other clients were relieved of their jobs. The clairvoyant Ms Sonandi was banished from the Ciskei because, as she put it, 'I am giving immense spiritual power to Chief Lent Whyte Maqoma.' Maqoma was eventually dismissed from the cabinet, stripped of his chieftainship, and exiled from the Ciskei. His very name was obliterated from the public buildings.[47] The lesson of Maqoma's bones is clear enough: even Ciskei nationhood cannot be allowed to take precedence over the President's personal political interests.


The administrative headquarters of the Ciskei government were temporarily housed in Zwelitsha, outside King Williams Town, for several years. The Sebe cabinet pondered a move to the town of Alice, certainly the cultural centre of the Eastern Cape missionary tradition, but also a stone's throw away from the militantly anti-Sebe students at the University of Fort Hare. Then, in 1979, a South African Commission publicly recommended that the whole of King Williams Town be incorporated into the Ciskei, which virtually surrounds the city. Fierce opposition from the white residents, led by a local gun dealer, severely embarrassed the South African government, and shortly before the 1981 elections it announced that the city would remain white after all. Sebe, who had done a fair amount of sabre-rattling on the issue, was discomfited and, to save his face among his own supporters, the South African government indulged him with a new capital. He chose a site called Yellowwoods about seven kilometres from King Williams Town, and soon entered into the spirit of the South African carteblanche, informing the contractors that:

Ciskeians regarded the establishment of the capital as sacred activity and there can be no talk of this or that costing too much, or cutting down on this or that item to bring cost within budget. . . . It is your duty when interpreting these documents to place the life and spirit of the Ciskei people into them.[48]

The contractors appear to have taken the President at his word, and with a budget of some R158 million they have not needed to be overly concerned with the problem of minimizing costs. From the results of their efforts, it would appear that the life and spirit of the Ciskeian people were best expressed in terms of another huge stadium; a new Legislative Assembly building adorned with a bust of President Sebe to match his statue at Ntaba kaNdoda; vast rectangular office block buildings for the extortionate Ciskei civil service; new headquarters for the Ciskei Security Police; and, last but not least, a presidential palace. Bisho will get a new university, since Fort Hare is insufficiently patriotic. It will also get an elite school 'modelled on English public school principles', a curious nursery for the Ciskeian spirit.

Naturally President Sebe could not admit that the new capital, dubbed Bisho, was just a poor substitute for King Williams Town. So he was forced to claim that 'Bisho' was in fact the 'original name of antiquity of the whole of the King Williams Town municipal area'. In fact, the original Xhosa name for the district was Qonce (Buffalo River), which Sebe cannot appropriate because it is always used by the Xhosa to refer specifically to that very city of King Williams Town which had been definitively excluded from the Ciskei. Bisho is a perfectly legitimate synonym, popularized moreover in a well-known Xhosa song, 'Bisho, my home', but it is false to assert, as Sebe has done, that it is a more ancient and therefore more valid name than Qonce.[49]

Not wanted on the site are the old villages of Tyutyu, Bhalasi and Skobeni, long established as eyesores and anachronisms by Ciskeian planners. In March 1987, South Africa gave President Sebe a 'free gift' of R6.1 million to remove the three communities so as to permit expansion of Bisho's elite housing projects. Within six months more than 1000 Tyutyu residents had been removed with very little in the way of compensation. They told the press that 'their forebears were buried at Tyutyu and they would like to be buried next to them according to the Xhosa custom'.[50] Clearly, however, such unreasonable customs cannot form part of the 'traditional' heritage of the new Ciskei. 'Nation' (isizwe ) and 'nationhood' (ubuzwe ) are the most overworked words in


the Ciskeian political vocabulary, as exemplified in the following example of Presidential rhetoric:

The spirit of nationalism which does not waver among Ciskeians was created by the bravery and hardships experienced by the heroes of the wars which were fought to keep the Ciskei a free country, where all people would share equally in the pride of their nationhood.[51]

The fallen heroes were often invoked to give Ciskei nationhood some sort of time-depth, although, as we have seen, they belong to the Rharhabe rather than to the Ciskeian past. Ciskeian military bases have been named after Sandile and Jongumsobomvu (Maqoma). The word 'nation' figures in the title Ikrwela leSizwe (Sword of the Nation), a 'crack Ciskeian anti-terrorist squad' presented with their wings at Ntaba kaNdoda, comprising men of whom President Sebe remarked, 'one man was capable of facing 500 men without wasting bullets'.[52] The Intsika yeSizwe (Pillar of the Nation) is a youth movement modelled on the Malawi Young Pioneers movement and trained with Israeli and South African Defence Force assistance. Its aim is to:

bring the cultural and historic heritage of the Ciskei to the notice of Ciskeian youth, provide useful and profitable employment to school leavers, serve the territory and the community, and stimulate in youth a sense of discipline, patriotism, nationalism, and a love of the soil.[53]

Its director, Reverend Matabese, said that his movement would be 'run on military lines' with the emphasis on drawing urban youth into a rural environment. The urban youth, who hate the Ciskei government, found the idea completely unattractive, however, and a completely new youth scheme, with higher rates of pay, is now envisaged.[54] The symbolism of national consciousness has found further expression on the bus fleets of the monopolistic parastatal Ciskeian Transport Corporation, which sports the logo 'Zezama-Ciskei Amahle', officially translated as 'We belong to the beautiful Ciskeians', which sentiment the Managing Director assured the public represented the philosophy of the bus company.[55] The bloody bus boycotts of late 1983 adequately demonstrated the feelings of the beautiful Ciskeians towards their patriotic bus company.

Napoleon is reputed to have said that men are led by toys. President Sebe is both an ardent exponent and an eminent example of this dictum. The President bought himself a R2 million Westwind 2 jet which no airfield in his statelet could handle and no Ciskeian could fly. Soon afterwards the President signed a R25 million contract with a Panamanian-registered company to build a new 'international airport' for Bisho. This airport is now complete. It can take a Boeing 747, which makes it larger than the South African airport in nearby East London, but by the end of 1987 nothing larger than light planes and helicopters had used its 2.5 kilometer runway. Although it costs R2.5 million a year to maintain this white elephant, one cannot travel from the Ciskei's capital to the airport without crossing South African territory.[56]

While the commuters of Mdantsane lost lives trying to stop a 10 cent increase in bus fares, the president negotiated the sale of a R75,000 Daimler and ordered 13 new BMWs for his cabinet, the existing ones being 'nearly three years old'. In addition to his official palace, the president possesses as personal property a Rl million private home at Bisho. This was paid for by compulsory contributions of between R5 and R1O from every Ciskeian citizen. He also owns a seaside cottage and a farm. Apart from the two hundred or so agricultural labourers who receive 'training' on this farm, the full-time farm labourers' salaries are also paid by the


Ciskeian government. When some of these excesses were exposed by the disgruntled Lent Maqoma, the National Assembly immediately passed legislation validating all government expenditure on Sebe's private residences.[57] On the more spiritual plane, the erstwhile commoner Sebe awarded himself a chieftainship, while the erstwhile non-matriculant (Sebe never finished school) also had himself awarded an Ll. D. (Doctorate in Law) from the University of Fort Hare.[58] Thus plain 'Mr Sebe' has become 'the Honourable Chief Dr Sebe'.

What is good for Sebe must of course be good for the Ciskei. So now there is the Order of Ntaba kaNdoda, 'awarded only to those general officers and brigadiers of the Ciskei Department of State Security and other armed forces for exceptional meritorious services of major military importance'.[59] First recipient was L.L.W. Sebe, who, incidentally, is also a full general and commands the Ciskei Defence Force.[60] For deeds of lesser merit, there is the Sandile medal. L.L.W. Sebe has one those as well. For 'loyal and dedicated employees of the Ciskei Government' ere is the Order of the Blue Crane. This too adorns the President's lapel. All these decorations and medals are awarded at special ceremonies held on Ntaba kaNdoda.

The quest for a 'Ciskeian' culture extends even to feminine apparel. Beads and the breasts have official approval as never before. A 'Miss Traditional Ciskei' beauty contest forms part of the annual Independence Celebrations.[62] Although the Ciskei is arguably the most successfully missionized of all South Africa's homelands, its President took a bevy of bare-breasted dancers to represent its 'culture' at an Israeli trade exhibition in 1983.[63] Still to come is the 50,000 hectare, R12 million Lennox Sebe Game Reserve and a R4 million cultural museum at Ntaba kaNdoda, complete with an 'outdoor kraal museum' and a craft centre at which such obsolete trades as beadwork, stick-carving and the manufacture of beer-strainers will be encouraged. Last but not least, the Ciskei has acquired its own hangman, who will execute his duties at the Ciskei's new, fully-equipped central prison.[64]


This chapter recognizes the existence of ethnic consciousness as a real phenomenon which cannot be denied or otherwise wished away. Where there is competition for power or for material resources, and where competing factions are able to stake out their claims in ethnic terms, such rival factions might seize on almost any aspect of language, history, culture or physical type and turn it into the criterion of ethnic difference. In the region now known as the Ciskei, the historical conflict between the Rharhabe and the Mfengu had created an ethnic consciousness which was reinforced by the material advantages which the Mfengu had achieved and enjoyed. When South Africa's new apartheid policy created the opportunity for the Rharhabe to challenge the material dominance of the Mfengu, they mobilized under the leadership of Lennox Sebe and were able to gain political power by the manipulation of 'homeland' structures.

Once in power, however, it suited Sebe to defuse the ethnic situation. This turned out to be easy. Once loyalty to Lennox Sebe replaced loyalty to one's ethnic group as the main avenue to power and wealth, ethnic association became less important and ethnic feeling correspondingly less bitter. But once he had abandoned his ethnic stance, Sebe faced a crisis of legitimacy. He required a hegemonic ideology which would win the support of Ciskeian subjects against the rival claims of older ethnicities, such as that of the Rharhabe royal house, the pan-Xhosa nationalism as proposed by K. D. Matanzima of the Transkei, and the


broader South African revolutionary nationalism embraced, for example, by students, workers, bus boycotters, and the ANC. Sebe chose an ideology of 'Ciskeian nationalism' thus committing himself to the invention of a wholly novel and therefore wholly bogus ethnicity.

How effective has this programme of pseudo-ethnicity been? There are those who argue that, given time, these admittedly artificial signs and symbols will acquire an aura of tradition. Others argue that whereas, for example, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi in KwaZulu can call on a potent feeling of national pride and military achievement, Sebe's appeals to a Ciskeian national consciousness will not take root because they refer to something which is simply not there. I tend to the second conclusion. It has been the failure of the concept of Ciskeian nationhood to capture, to even the slightest extent, the imagination and support of the ordinary person which drove the Ciskeian regime to an ever increasinr dependence on brute repression in the form of Charles Sebe and the Ciskei Central Intelligence Service.

Between 1985 and 1988, however, we have seen a decreasing emphasis on Ciskeian ethnicity and a greater emphasis on an all-out espousal of consumerism and self-indulgence thinly disguised as a commitment to Free Enterprise.[65] New tax laws, abolishing company tax and limiting personal tax to a mere 15 per cent have turned the Ciskei into a self-proclaimed tax-haven for the rich. Good agricultural land has been given away at R26 per hectare to Sebe's favourites.[66] The Ciskei People's Development Bank has given sweetheart loans to the same favourites of Sebe for the acquisition of hotels, garages and trading-stores.[67] And the government's declared intention of 'privatizing' the Ciskei's many parastatals can only add more honey to the honey-pot.

The nouveau riche city of Bisho is at least a faithful reflection of the society which gave it birth. Inside its rapidly expanding shopping arcades the Ciskeian elite contemplate the purchase of Jacuzzis and three-piece suits. Outside, prestigious housing developments have already over-run the village of Tyutyu and stand poised to attack the next target, Bhalasi. Across the road, hundreds of glassy-eyed civil servants pop coils of one Rand coins into flashing slot machines at the Amatola Sun casino.

But some things never change. Lennox Sebe has used the Transkei's 1987 attack on his palace to whip up a little pro-Ciskei sentiment. Sick Transkeians were expelled from Ciskeian hospital beds.[68] A new 'Ciskei Development and Security Fund' was started for purposes which have never been specified. 'Voluntary donations' of between R1O and R20 per Ciskeian and R500 per business have been levied, and those foolish enough not to volunteer have lost their pensions or their cattle or their business licences.[69] Through this patriotic exercise R200 000 was amassed. In March 1987, President Sebe mounted yet another customary ceremony at the Bisho Independence Stadium. The time had come for the sixteen government departments to present their contributions to the new fund. As each delegation stepped forward to hand over its cheque, dancers ululated and sang traditional songs.[70]

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14— Ethnicity and Pseudo-Ethnicity in the Ciskei
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