Rebel Transkei welcomes the 'comrade' king

The African National Congress connected king of the powerful Thembu clan, Buyekhaya Dalindyebo, is back in the Transkei and living under the protection of the military government - reinforcing the rebellious homeland’s challenge to Pretoria. Weekly Mail yesterday obtained the first-ever interview with the 26-year old “comrade” king, who was raised by the ANC in exile and uses colloquialisms typical of an exile. 

The gentle and shy but articulate king revealed that he was at the reburial on Sunday of his father, Sabata Dalindyebo - though he chose to remain incognito. He stood inconspicuously in the crowd of thousands at the funeral and was seen - but not recognised - by dozens of journalists.
He poured sand on the grave of his father and waited for most guests to depart, and then left under the personal protection of Brigader TT Matanzima, acting head of the Transkei armed forces and a distant cousin of former President Kaizer Matanzima.

Dalindyebo is now living at the heavily-guarded home of a member of the military government in Umtata. His return to the homeland that forced him and his father into exile and was until recently notorious for its brutal treatment of the ANC and other political opponents is likely to add to the new climate of excitement in the Transkei. The military government of Major General Bantu Holomisa has raised uncertainty over the territory’s relationship with the rest of South Africa - and set itself on a collision course with Pretoria. Weekly Mail sources say South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha wrote a letter to Holomisa after Sunday’s funeral, which effectively became a mass ANC rally. However, the contents of the letter are not known. 

Despite reports that arrangements for Dalindyebo to return were cancelled after the family received a tipoff he may be assassinated, he told the Weekly Mail he was happy to be at the reburial of his father and see his people again. The young king went into exile in 1974 and his father followed him in 1975. Dalindyebo said he was happy to see the graves of his family, the Thembu royalty, and that his father had stressed the importance of the continuity of the proper line of succession. He last saw his father in 1984 in Zimbabwe, two years before the old monarch died in exile. At this meeting they talked night and day. His father told him he should “never sell his people out and follow the line of other homeland leaders”. He said he would follow in his father’s footsteps and listen to the people and rule according to their will. 

The late King Sabata had told him this way of seeing things had brought him a lot of suffering - but also earned him respect. He said he would rebuild Bum¬ bane, royal house of the Thembu, but was reluctant to discuss the politics of Thembuland. His return is the latest in a series of Umtata challenges to Pretoria. This week Holomisa also allowed a march of about 25 000 people in Umtata to demand the abolition of the death penalty. The homeland’s state president, Tutor Ndamase, also made a statement in support of the Save the Patriots campaign and leaders of the homeland shared the platform at the Sabata funeral with the Mass Democratic Movement. 

At the funeral, Holomisa told the largely MDM-supporting crowd that he intended holding a referendum to test whether Transkei ‘s people want to remain independent or not. Holomisa has recently met the leader of the African National Congress. In a startling interview earlier this week, Holomisa said the independence of the Transkei from South Africa had not been “democratic or genuine”. He said a referendum had never been held to test the views of Transkei’s people on the issue. He also pointed out that Kaizer Matanzima came to power after an election in the independence year of 1976 with almost the entire opposition under arrest. 

“When my predecessor Kaiser Matanzima took independence from the South African government, he said he would use the freedom of the Transkei to liberate the oppressed black people of South Africa,” Holomisa said. “He did not. But what we are doing is nothing new; we are following up on his initial intentions.” He said in his view State President FW de Klerk had conceded that the homeland strategy based on Verwoerd politics was a failure. Holomisa hinted at a fundamental challenge to Pretoria’s grand apartheid scheme at the funeral last weekend when he suggested that he could put the issue of Transkei’s independence to a referendum. 

In the interview this week, Holomisa told Weekly Mail he could not say when or how the referendum would be held, but his military government could set up a committee to examine the issue. Asked his views on the ANC, Holomisa said he was head of a military government and therefore did not express views on political organisations and parties. “But some of the thing the ANC and PAC have been saying about corruption and the homeland system were true,” he added. Asked whether his apparent tolerance of organisations like the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) and the ANC were due to his membership of the Thembu clan (of which Nelson Mandela is also a member), he said he was a professional man and that being Thembu was a coincidence. 

Holomisa has already faced an assassination attempt. A military council representative said six men from the Johannesburg area who planned to kill Holomisa had been arrested after: a shoot-out in Umtata recently.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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