The Thembu are one of the handful of nations and population groups which speak Xhosa in South Africa. In Xhosa the name is abaThembu, aba- being a common prefix for peoples. In the 19th century they were frequently known as the "Tamboekie" or "Tambookie" people. The most internationally famous Thembu person was Nelson Mandela, whose father was a reigning nobleman from a junior branch of the Madiba clan of kings. Walter Sisulu was also of Thembu descent, on his mother's side. The land in which they lived was historically known as Thembuland.
After conquest, the Thembu were administered by the government of the Cape Colony as one of the Transkeian Territories, which with the exception of a few missionaries and white traders, were treated as lands reserved for African occupation. Other peoples in the territories who had formerly had independent kingdoms included the Gcaleka branch of the Xhosa, the Mpondo (who split into two kingdoms late in the 19th century), the Bhaca and the Xesibe. Under apartheid the Transkei was turned into a bantustan. In the ethnic theory underpinning apartheid, the Transkei was regarded as the "homeland" of the Xhosa people. As a result, the Thembu people are often misidentified as being Xhosa.
The current Thembu king is Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, son of Sabata Jonguhlanga Dalindyebo, and his praise name is Zwelibanzi. Sabata deposed Kaiser Matanzima, who was installed by the Apartheid government and advocated against South African liberation movements. In December 2009 King Buyelekhaya was convicted of offences including culpable homicide, kidnapping, arson and assault. In response he proposed secession from South Africa. Though secession was later suspended, a demand remained that the government pay Dalindyebo R 900 million and the tribe a further R 80 billion in compensation for the humiliation caused by the criminal trial.