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Republic of Ciskei
iRiphabliki ye Ciskei
(nominal parliamentary democracy)
Coat of arms
Motto: "Siyakunqandwa Ziinkwenkwezi"  (Xhosa)
"We Shall be Stopped by the Stars"
or "The Sky is the Limit"
Location of Ciskei (red) within South Africa (yellow).
Location of Ciskei (red) within South Africa (yellow).
Status Bantustan
Capital Bisho
Common languages Xhosa
Chief Minister  
• 1972–1973
Chief J. T. Mabandla
• 1973–1978a
Lennox Leslie Wongamu Sebe
• 1978–1990b
Lennox Leslie Wongamu Sebe
• 1990–1994
Brigadier General Oupa Gqozo
• Self-government
1 August 1972
• Nominal independence
4 December 1981
• Re-integrated into South Africa
27 April 1994
1980[1] 9,000 km2 (3,500 sq mi)
• 1980[1]
Currency South African rand
Preceded by
Succeeded by
South Africa
South Africa

Ciskei (/sɪsˈk/ or /sɪsˈk/) was a nominally independent state – a Bantustan – in the south east of South Africa. It covered an area of 7,700 square kilometres (3,000 sq mi), almost entirely surrounded by what was then the Cape Province, and possessed a small coastline along the shore of the Indian Ocean.

Under South Africa's policy of apartheid, land was set aside for black peoples in self-governing territories. Ciskei was designated as one of two homelands or "Bantustans" for Xhosa-speaking people. Ngqika (Rharhabe) Xhosa people were forcibly resettled in the Ciskei, and Gcaleka Xhosa were settled in the Transkei, the other Xhosa homeland.[citation needed] Unlike the other Bantustans, including Transkei, which saw itself as a Xhosa homeland,[2] Ciskei has been described as having "absolutely no basis in any ethnic, cultural or linguistic fact whatsoever" despite efforts by the Ciskei authorities to create a distinctive "Ciskeian" identity.[2]

In contrast to the Transkei, which was largely contiguous and deeply rural, and governed by hereditary chiefs, the area that became the Ciskei was made up of a patchwork of "reserves" with a relatively educated populace[2] having elected headmen, interspersed with pockets of white-owned farms, and a tendency of blacks in its urban areas to oppose traditional methods of control.[3] This difference has been posited as the reason for two separate homelands for the Xhosa people being developed, as well as the later nominal independence of Ciskei from South Africa, than Transkei.[3]

Ciskei had a succession of capitals during its existence. Originally, Zwelitsha served as the capital with the view that Alice would become the long-term national capital. However, it was Bisho (now spelled Bhisho) that became the capital until Ciskei's reintegration into South Africa.

The name Ciskei means "on this side of the Kei River", and is in contrast to the neighbouring Bantustan of Transkei.


A rural area in Ciskei
Map of Ciskei

By the time Sir John Cradock was appointed governor of the Cape Colony in 1811, the Zuurveld region had lapsed into disorder and many white farmers had begun to abandon their farms.[4] Early during 1812, on the instructions of the governor, Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham forced 20,000 Xhosa to cross the Fish River.[4] Subsequently, 27 military posts were erected across this border, which resulted in the establishment of the garrison towns of Grahamstown and Cradock.[4]

At the end of the 19th century, the area known as British Kaffraria between the Fish and Kei rivers had been set aside[by whom?] for the "Bantu" and was from then on known as the Ciskei.[5] Europeans gave the name Ciskei to the area to distinguish it from the Transkei, the area north of the Kei.[6]

After the Union of South Africa formed in 1910, the "Bantu" rights of occupation remained unclear and differed from colony to colony within South Africa. The Native Lands Act of 1913 demarcated the reserves in the Union, and made it illegal to sell or lease these lands to Europeans (except in the Cape Colony).[5] General Hertzog pursued his segregation policy and subsequently passed the Native Trust and Land Act in 1936.[7] This act effectively abolished the right of the Cape "Bantu" to buy land outside of the existing reserves.[7]


In 1961 Ciskei became a separate administrative region and in 1972 was declared self-governing under the rule of Chief Justice Mabandla and then Lennox Sebe. Mabandla was a Fengu, a group that had allied itself with the British in the frontier wars, and which historically embraced colonial education and were better educated. The Rharhabe were resentful, and with the policy of "retribalisation" by the apartheid authorities, asserted their position, which culiminated in the election of Sebe,[8] although Sebe later abandoned his anti-Fengu rhetoric.[9]

In 1978 it became a single-party state under the rule of Sebe, and after an independence referendum in 1980, in 1981 it became the fourth homeland to be declared independent by the South African government and its residents lost their South African citizenship. However, there were no border controls between South Africa and Ciskei.

Black people found to be living without permits in white areas or farms, often for generations, were forcibly relocated to Ciskei by Apartheid authorities, often from "black spots" in the neighbouring "white corridor"[10] and moved into squalid resettlement camps.[11] A 1983 study by Rhodes University found that 40% of the children in one camp suffered from wasting caused by malnutrition, and 10% suffered from kwashiorkor,[10] and in another camp, 50% of children died before the age of 5.[10]

In common with other Bantustans its independence was not recognised by the international community. Sebe once claimed that the State of Israel had granted official recognition to Ciskei, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry denied this.[12]

In 1987, Transkei, a larger, wealthier and more populous entity, undertook a series of military raids on Ciskei[3][13] and attempted to seize control of Ciskei, in an attack on leader Lennox Sebe's compound, with the apparent goal of taking him hostage, in order to force a merger of the two Bantustans.[14] The South African government intervened to warn the Transkei government off.[3]

Coup d'état[edit]

In 1990 Brigadier Oupa Gqozo deposed Sebe and ruled as a dictator – despite an initial promise of a swift return to civilian rule. During 1991 and 1992 many of the legal foundations of apartheid in South Africa were removed, undermining the rationale for the homelands' continued existence. The African National Congress pressed strongly for them to be reincorporated into South Africa. This was opposed by Gqozo and the other homeland leaders.

Bisho Massacre[edit]

On 7 September 1992 the Ciskei Defence Force fired into a crowd (led by Ronnie Kasrils) of ANC members demanding the removal of Gqozo.[15][16] 28 people were killed and hundreds injured in the Bisho massacre outside the sports stadium in Bisho, the small capital of Ciskei.[15][16]


Gqozo refused to participate in the multiracial negotiations to agree a post-apartheid constitution for South Africa and initially threatened to boycott the first multiracial elections. This became unsustainable and in March 1994 Ciskei government workers went on strike for fear of losing their job security and pensions in the post-apartheid era. The police then mutinied, prompting Gqozo to resign on 22 March. The Transitional Executive Council appointed two administrators, who took control of the homeland to ensure security until the elections could be held the following month, the TEC also blocked the South African government from deploying the paramilitary Internal Stability Unit (ISU) of the South African Police force, as the unit was suspected of fomenting violence in other parts of the country, and after the Ciskei military had threatened to open fire on the ISU if it entered the territory.

Ciskei and all of the other homelands were reincorporated into South Africa on 27 April 1994, after the first post-apartheid elections. Along with Transkei, Ciskei became part of the new Eastern Cape Province, with its capital becoming the capital of the new province.

Districts in 1991[edit]

Districts of the province and population at the 1991 census.[17]

Law enforcement and Defence[edit]

See also[edit]

Books on Ciskei[edit]

  • Mager, A.K. (1999) Gender and the Making of a South African Bantustan: A Social History of the Ciskei, 1945–1959, Heinemann.
  • Switzer, L. (1993) Power and Resistance in an African Society: The Ciskei Xhosa and the Making of South Africa, University of Wisconsin Press.


  1. ^ Sally Frankental; Owen Sichone (2005-01-01). South Africa's Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. ABC-CLIO. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-57607-674-3. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ a b c Cameron, Trewhella; Spies, S.B., eds. (1980) [1986]. An Illustrated History of South Africa (1 ed.). Jonathan Ball Publishers, Johannesburg. p. 79. ISBN 0-86850-118-2. 
  5. ^ a b Boyce, A.N. (1971) [1969]. Europe and South Africa: A history for South African High Schools (3 ed.). Juta & Company, Limited. p. 700. 
  6. ^ Bulpin, T.V. (1980). Mayhew, Vic; Duncan, Tony; Handler, Rosemund, eds. Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa (2 ed.). Reader's Digest. p. 152. ISBN 0-620-04650-3. 
  7. ^ a b Boyce, A.N. (1971) [1969]. Europe and South Africa: A history for South African High Schools (3 ed.). Juta & Company, Limited. p. 702. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^
  12. ^ Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, (New York: Pantheon Books), 2010, p. 157.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b Ronnie Kasrils (7 May 2004). "A Decade of Democracy: What if Boipatong and Bisho had not happened?". Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  16. ^ a b "Evidence that Ciskei massacre was planned". GreenLeft. 1992-09-30. Retrieved 2010-12-22. 
  17. ^ "Census > 1991 > Ciskei > Variable Description > ... > District code". Statistics South Africa - Nesstar WebView. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 

External links[edit]