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14— Ethnicity and Pseudo-Ethnicity in the Ciskei
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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.

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