The end is nigh for 'separate development' : The dustbin of history beckons for the 'homelands', writes John Carlin

CAPE TOWN - Apartheid's most absurd, costly and pernicious enterprise looks set for the dustbin of history after the disclosure of South African government plans to terminate a system, the black 'homelands', about which it is impossible to write without constant recourse to ironic inverted commas.

Sooner or later it had to happen, but government sources have told the local press they hope that by mid-year the governments of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei might no longer be entitled officially to persist with the delusion that they preside over independent states. The only country in the world to recognise their sovereign status is South Africa, whose apartheid engineers bestowed this condition on them in the first place.

The conventional wisdom, as propagated by President F W de Klerk, has been that apartheid disappeared when the white parliament made it legal for blacks to live, to walk, to swim wherever they liked. But this is not strictly true and will not be until the disappearance of the homelands, a scheme driven by the 'grand apartheid' notion of driving blacks out of South Africa's rich industrial and fertile rural areas into purportedly tribal reservations where they could 'develop separately'.

Nothing of the kind happened. On the one hand, Pretoria's subsidies to the notoriously corrupt and inefficient homeland administrations - four are 'independent', another six are 'self-governing' - are due to cost the South African treasury 16.8bn rand ( pounds 3.6bn) this year. On the other, the political legitimacy of their respective governments has been, at best, highly questionable - especially in the four 'republics'.

Transkei, Venda and Ciskei are ruled by military governments that won power through coups. Bophuthatswana is ruled by a civilian government that cancelled elections last year after it turned out that the standing MPs were running unopposed. 'Bop', as it is known, does not allow the African National Congress (ANC) or the Congress of South African Trade Unions to operate on the grounds that they are foreign organisations.

The position at present is that Transkei and Venda, which are allies of the ANC, are keen in principle on reincorporation. Bophuthatswana and Ciskei, which have ties with the Inkatha Freedom Party and the white far right, are wavering.

Lucas Mangope, the President of Bophuthatswana, is on record as having said that his country would never relinquish its independence. But the mood has changed during the recent multi-party talks, where the air is thick with plans for a federal future. Last week Mr Mangope's government was engaged in what officials described as 'extremely delicate' bilateral discussions with Pretoria.

Two obvious explanations exist for the South African government's sudden interest in resolving the homelands question. One is that, under the present constitutional dispensation, plans to hold democratic elections in the next year must of necessity exclude the populations of the four 'independents'. The other is that the government's white constituency has been driven into a frenzy by recent reports that Transkei has been harbouring the Azanian People's Liberation Army, a minnow outfit that claims its policy is to kill whites.

Government statements have portrayed Transkei's young leader, General Bantu Holomisa, as a South African Saddam Hussein and, only last week, the South African security forces mounted a huge operation designed to cordon off Transkei with 'a ring of steel'.

Gen Holomisa said on Friday that he would quite cheerfully see the reincorporation of Transkei once such a move had been agreed in multi-party talks. This is also the ANC position.

The ANC is more eager than anyone to see the homelands dissolved but, as a statement on Saturday explained, it does not want this to be the consequence of unilateral government action. First, it rejects the principle of the government making such decisions without multi-party consultation. Second, it does not want the government to take the credit for a move certain to translate into political points among the vast majority of the homelands' inhabitants.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'