Bantustans: A Divided South Africa

Traditional African rondavel huts in Transkei, one of the two Bantustans of the Xhosa tribe.

It happens from time to time that a region of a country breaks out and forms a new nation. Often, the country that is split in two in this manner does everything in its power to remain intact. An example of this is the situation in Kosovo and Serbia, where Kosovo is recognized by 102 UN member states, but not by Serbia.

The opposite situation, where a country splits itself into several independent nations and recognizes the new countries, but the international community does not, is much more unusual, but there is one example: the Bantustans of South Africa.

Homeland map
Map of the black homelands in South Africa at the end of apartheid in 1994. Source: Wikipedia

The Bantustans of South Africa, first established in the 1950s, were twenty territories that the apartheid government defined as a new home for the black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa (which is now Namibia).

The purpose of the Bantustans was to concentrate the members of South Africa's different black ethnic groups, supposedly with the goal of creating independent nation states for them to live in.

The policies' primary goal was to alter South African society to make whites the demographic majority. While Bantustans would be independent, what that really meant was that blacks would no longer be able to vote in South African elections, as they would no longer be citizens of that country.

The ill-conceived policy was poorly executed, with the assignment of people to specific Bantustans being arbitrary. Some people were sent to areas that they had no connection to.

Living in the slums of the Bantustans was unpleasant for the inhabitants, and what little work existed was under poor conditions, unregulated by the South African government. The economy of the Bantustans was so weak, the territories were only kept going by huge subsidies from the South African government.

The apartheid regime ended in South Africa in 1994, but the Bantustans were dissolving long before that. Nearly ten years earlier, in 1985, State President P. W. Botha declared that blacks living in South Africa, and in the independent Bantustans, would no longer be deprived of South African citizenship. The territories that made up the Bantustans were reincorporated into the Republic of South Africa.

These days, the term bantustan is often used when referring to any region that was created illegitimately to serve one-sided interests.

The four Bantustans that were declared to be independent nations by South Africa were:

Bantustan Tribe Years
Transkei Xhosa 1976–1994
Bophuthatswana Tswana 1977–1994
Venda Venda 1979–1994
Ciske Xhosa 1981–1994

A stamp printed in 1985 in the Bantustan Bophuthatswana.