From Academic Kids

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Political Map of South Africa

The poverty-stricken but beautiful Transkei — which roughly means the area over the Kei River — is situated in what is now part of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, bordered by the Umtavuma River in the north and the Great Kei River in the south, while the Indian Ocean and the Drakensberg Mountains of the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho served as Transkei's eastern and western frontiers rspectively. The main city is Umtata.

The Transkei has many rivers flowing from the mountains to the oceans, so unlike much of South Africa, it is relatively unscathed by drought. Xhosa, with its distinctive clicks derived from the Bushman or Khoi-San peoples, is the main language.

For much of the 1900s, many black male farmers in the Transkei were forced by punitive taxes levied only on Africans, known as poll taxes, to head north by train to work contracts underground in Johannesburg's brutal gold mines. Some never returned, crushed in rockfalls in mines with very low standards of safety for their workers. Others returned with dreadful lung diseases from inhaling particles, or tuberculosis. Migrant labour has continued to shape the Transkei ever since.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratic president, was born in the Transkei in 1918, and still has a home in Qunu. His first wife, the nurse Evelyn Mase, came from the Engcobo district of the Transkei, although they met in Johannesburg. That marriage produced three children, but broke up under the multiple strains of his constant absences, devotion to politics, and her reliance on a strain of Christianity which became increasingly hostile to political struggle. Mandela's second wife, Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela, came from the Pondoland district of the Transkei, although they too met in Johannesburg, where she was the city's first black social worker. Later, Winnie would be deeply torn by family discord which mirrored the country's political strife: while her husband was serving a life sentence on the notorious Robben Island prison for fighting for democracy, her father collaborated with the white regime and became the agriculture minister in the so-called self-governing state of Transkei.

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Flag of Transkei bantustan

In 1959, the National Party government introduced legislation to create eight ethnically and linguistically divided homelands for black South Africans, whether they wanted them or not. It was a brutal attempt to shoehorn 70% of the population into 13 % of the land. Even though two out of every three black South Africans was already living in urban regions, this legislation was designed to turn back the clock and force city residents to take up citizenship of these remote regions.

For much of its history, the Transkei homeland for Xhosa speakers was ruled with an iron fist by Chief Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima, a nephew of Mandela's, who chose to collaborate with the repressive white minority government. In 1980, he deposed the king of the Thembu people, Sabata Dalindyebo. But the Transkei homeland was never recognised as a legitimate government either abroad or at home, and with the collapse of apartheid, it too dissolved.

See Also: Presidents of Transkei, Heads of Government of Transkei



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