Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Black Homelands of South Africa - Book Review

I came across this somewhat obscure title while looking for books about the homelands of Apartheid Era South Africa.

A bit of a back story, in 1913 the South African government created "native reserves" which were sections of land set aside for the various black tribes that lived in South Africa. When the National Party came to power in 1946, it began instituting Apartheid (Afrikaans for "separateness"), a policy designed to segregate South Africans according to race. A major part of this policy was "Separate Development", the idea that each ethnicity should be grouped into it's own area, with the black areas gradually becoming independent countries. The ultimate goal of this was to leave South Africa completely free of blacks.

To this end the government established "homelands", based on the areas of land set aside in 1913, and began to group the various tribes into their specific homeland. Ten such areas were set up, four of which, Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Ciskei and Venda, were declared "independent" from South Africa. International relations, the deteriorating economy, internal pressure and other factors, prevented the granting of independence to the remaining six homelands.

Conditions withing the homelands were comparable to those of third-world countries. Politically, they were very unstable. In 1994, Apartheid ended, and the homelands were dissolved, their military and police forces absorbed into those of South Africa.

I have been interested in South African history for a long time. And for a long time I have been looking for more information about the homelands. There is some information available on the internet, but not much.

Reading The Black Homelands of South Africa by Jeffrey Butler, Robert I. Rotberg and John Adams answered a lot of the questions I had. This book was published by University of California Press in 1979 as part of their series "Perspectives on Southern Africa". Although the book is dated, the information it gives is valuable.

It focuses on two homelands, Bophuthatswana and KwaZulu. And more specifically, on the economics and politics of the two homelands. It also analyzes the problems they both faced. These problems were never resolved and are one of the reasons that no other country besides Israel and Taiwan ever recognized their independence.

Some specific problems related to Bophuthatswana included the lack of arable farmland, lack of infrastructure (for instance there were hardly any paved roads) and the fact that a great many Tswana (the tribe assigned to that area) did not actually live within the homeland, nor did they wish to. Employment opportunities were scarce and a great majority of Tswana would go to live on the fringes of white areas, where jobs were more readily available (in the book Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane, he writes that he and his family lived in fear of being discovered without their passes and being deported to the homeland).

Another problem specific to Bophuthatswana was the lack of industry. The territory set aside for Bophuthatswana ( scattered enclaves, some of which were located a great distance from each other) was rich in natural resources such as platinum mines. However, lacking the ability to work the mines, they had to outsource to South African firms which were controlled completely by whites, leaving blacks without a say in their operation. These firms also claimed most of the profits. In spite of this, platinum was a huge source of revenue to Bophuthatswana.

KwaZulu (named for the Zulu Kingdom and today part of the KwaZulu-Natal province) was better off when it came to agriculture. However KwaZulu faced the same problems that the other homelands did, in that the territory set aside for them was much too small to adequately house their population.

Had the homelands been more successful it is likely that South African history would have been much different. The authors speculate that if the homelands succeed they might eventually be recognized by the international community, join the United Nations and perhaps form a Southern African federation, similar to the European Economic Community. Obviously events turned out differently.

The book describes, in detail, the main problems facing the homeland, lack of industry, lack of infrastructure, difficulty in raising revenue for the functions of government, lack of arable farmland, white interference and so forth.

This is information that I had been wanting for a while. I knew that the homelands were not economically viable, but I wanted to know why they were not. And I wanted to know the same thing with their political situations.

There are about twenty or so books in the series on Southern Africa, and I plan to read them all. A few of them, such as this one, are legally available to read online. However, I am still looking for more information on the homelands, specifically, I would like to read accounts from people who actually lived in them. Things like, what daily life was like, what serving in their military or police forces was like, voting in their elections and so forth.

The end of the homelands was only seventeen years ago. So hopefully more books will be available soon. Until then, books like this are a good start.

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