President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday rejected calls for the Transkei to become South Africa’s 10th province.
He was speaking to several thousand African National Congress supporters at a pre-election imbizo at the Great Place of Pondo King Mpondombini Sigcawu near Lusikisiki.
Mbeki, dressed in traditional Pondo umbhaco or beaded waistcoat and skirt, said the reason for the apartheid-era creation of two bantustans in the Eastern Cape, Ciskei and Transkei, had been to divide its people and ensure there was no cooperation between them.
“And today there are other people that say we must come back to that policy of the division of the Eastern Cape,” he said.
“It makes no sense.”
One cannot bring about development in Transkei by cutting the territory off from East London and Port Elizabeth, the centres in the province that do have development.
“You cannot develop the Transkei by isolating it,” he said.
The only logic he could think of behind the 10th-province proposal is that some people are hungry for power.
“There’s not going to be a 10th province,” he said.
The largely rural and chronically underdeveloped Transkei, once a nominally independent “homeland”, was reincorporated into South Africa ahead of the 1994 elections.
The idea of making it a 10th province was raised and swiftly rejected in the constitutional talks that led up to the historic poll.
ANC Eastern Cape officials said on Thursday the idea was resurrected at the end of last year by individuals linked to Ex-Mineworkers of South Africa, a pressure group set up to lobby for compensation for ex-miners with health problems such as miner’s phthisis.
Those individuals who are pushing the idea largely in Pondoland claim that 10th-province status is the solution to Transkei’s development problems.
Mbeki was presented with his umbhaco outfit earlier in a private meeting with King Sigcawe and his wife Lombekiso.
He emerged beaming in the beaded clothing, holding a carved iqakathi or knobkierie.
“Do I look smart?” he joked with watching journalists.
In a ceremony at the royal kraal the king presented Mbeki with a black ox.
The animal lowered its horned head and pawed the ground suspiciously as Eastern Cape Premier Makhenkesi Stofile delivered a short speech of acceptance on Mbeki’s behalf.
“It can see us, it is rejoicing, it is accepting us in this area,” he said.
However, Mbeki’s bodyguard, perhaps mindful of a similar handover at the Rahrahbe royal kraal a week ago, where a cow charged press photographers, was not so sure of the animal’s intentions.
He stood inconspicuously to one side with his pistol drawn, ready to shoot if the animal advanced on the president.
Several thousand people, many of them also in traditional Pondo dress, attended the imbizo, held on a green hilltop near the king’s palace and the newly completed Pondo royal chambers and community hall.
The complex was initiated by the king’s sister, Stella Sigcau, under the community-based public works programme.
Eastern Pondoland is an ANC stronghold and Sigcawu, although ostensibly politically neutral, has what his advisers call a “special relationship” with the ANC.
Former ANC president Oliver Tambo grew up in the area, and the ANC was formally given the freedom of Pondoland after Nelson Mandela was released from jail. — Sapa