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14— Ethnicity and Pseudo-Ethnicity in the Ciskei
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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]

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