"Bringing together that which belongs together": The establishment of KwaNdebele and the incorporation of Moutse

Nielsen, Derrick
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Through a series of public statements and official proclamations issued in the early 1980s, the South African government confirmed that KwaNdebele, a small peri-urban settlement northeast of Pretoria, was to become the fifth 'independent homeland' in the country. One of the smallest and poorest of Pretoria's territorial constructs, the Department of Co-operation and Development planned to boost the area's viability by incorporating the historically non-Ndebele area of Moutse, originally a part of Lebowa, into KwaNdebele before granting independence. From 1985 until the end of the decade, both Moutse and KwaNdebele witnessed periods of popular revolt and mass mobilization against aspects of the government's bantustan policy, in particular against plans calling for the consolidation, development and eventual independence of KwaNdebele. As conflict engulfed the KwaNdebele region in 1985-6, the parliamentary opposition, political NGOs and a wide-range of journalists and commentators questioned both the objectives and the tactics of the Botha government. For many, Moutse's incorporation and KwaNdebele's independence represented, in a vivid and tragic manner, the illogical nature of government policy. When Allister Sparks headed one of his columns with the question "What on earth is the Government playing at in KwaNdebele?" he was voicing a wide-spread sense of frustration and disbelief. However, despite the urgency which the revolts' bloodshed had added, the substance of Sparks' rhetorical question was not new. KwaNdebele has frequently been cited as an example of the ridiculous lengths to which the previous government was willing to go in the pursuit of ethnic purity. In such accounts, KwaNdebele's belated establishment represents the last step in a long, and illogical, process of ethnic partition. Sparks summarized KwaNdebele's creation thus: It was formed by buying up 19 white farms, building an instant capital called Siyabuswa, finding a compliant member of the Ndebele tribe named Simon Skosana who was wining to play ban, making him Chief Minister of a nominated legislative assembly, then, on his say-so, declaring that the 'people' of KwaNdebele had opted for independence. In addition, Sparks questioned the logic of Moutse's incorporation: I would like someone to give me one sensible reason for what has been done. The annexation does not even make sense in terms of the Government's own ideology. The people of Moutse are Sotho-speaking members of the Pedi tribe. According to the logic of apartheid's insistence on ethnic compartmentalization, they should form part of the North Sotho "homeland' of Lebowa. But the Government has removed them from Lebowa and forced them to join the "homeland' for the Ndebele. Why? What follows is an attempt to answer Sparks' query. The primary objective of this paper is to construct a narrative of events which tracks government policy towards the Ndebele from their initial scattered existence across the Transvaal, to the belated creation and consolidation of KwaNdebele and, finally, to the incorporation of the primarily non-Ndebele area of Moutse. Throughout, I will adopt a top-down approach in order to view events and the region from the perspective of the South African government, and more specifically, from the perspective of officials involved in formulating homeland policy.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 11 March 1996
KwaNdebele (South Africa). Politics and government