Apartheid stooges need no honours

2010-10-15 00:00

THE recent controversy involving the former leader of the then Bophuthatswana homeland and the University of North West (UNW) has forced us to revisit the role that homeland leaders played during the apartheid era.

The story is that the UNW wanted to honour Lucas Mangope for his role in establishing the institution by having his bust installed there, by naming one of the residences after him and lastly, by inviting him to deliver an address or a lecture. The African National Congress in the province saw red and launched a fierce opposition to those plans.

It argued that the university had no business in honouring a former homeland leader as these people had caused immense suffering to the people during the apartheid years.

Not content with classifying people according to their race, the former Nationalist regime further divided Africans according to the languages they spoke and then allocated them specific areas where those “nations” were supposed to “rule” themselves.

And so there was Zululand for the Zulus, Bophuthatswana for the Tswanas, Venda for the Vendas, Kangwane for the Swazis, Transkei and Ciskei for the Xhosas.

The majority of black people regarded the homeland system or the Bantustan idea as a fraud and those people who accepted them were branded as sellouts and were roundly condemned as Uncle Toms whom nobody took seriously.

But the apartheid regime went on to offer what it termed “independence” to the leaders of those homelands, an independence that was just a sham from beginning to end.

Kaiser Matanzima (Transkei), Mangope (Bophuthatswana), Chief Patrick Mphephu (Venda) and Lennox Sebe (Ciskei) went on to accept that false independence, while others like Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Zulus and Enos Mabuza (Kangwane) refused to go all the way and accept it.

Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko had this to say about the homelands: “These tribal cocoons called homelands are nothing else but sophisticated concentration camps where black people are allowed to suffer peacefully.”

It is against this background that the drama at the University of North West is taking place and should be understood. The opposition against Mangope is a principled one against honouring a man who was a traitor to his people at a time when all credible leaders were constantly being imprisoned for years (like Nelson Mandela), banned, detained (like Robert Sobukwe), harassed (like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela), killed (like Biko himself), banished, and assassinated (like Abram Tiro).

Because Mangope, a puppet of the regime, used the position he was given by his apartheid masters to build the then University of Bophuthatswana (now the UNW), some people are saying that he should be honoured for that. That is where the crux of the matter lies.

Many people in the anti-apartheid movement, both here and abroad, suffered a lot because of their principled opposition to that system, while the likes of Mangope and his co-sojourners were insulated from that suffering because they were part of the evil system.

The question that begs to be asked, is now that we are in a democracy, should such people be honoured, just because they used some of the 30 pieces of silver they received from their masters to build a school here or a university there?

On the other hand, when Matanzima died, we saw a number of the political leadership, including cabinet ministers of the current democratic government, in attendance. Now does that mean Matanzima was a better apartheid stooge than the others? Does it mean one of these days we may find ourselves having to debate that a residence at the University of Transkei or the Walter Sisulu University be named after Matanzima?

When the white illegitimate minority regime introduced the Bantustan policy, we said “Down with Bantustans” because as Biko put it then: “We are oppressed not as individuals, not as Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas or Indians. We are oppressed because we are black.”

Instead of heeding the call from credible leaders like these, homeland puppet leaders sided with the oppressor and by so doing, became part of the problem. But are we saying we must honour them? I think not.

• Bhungani kaMzolo is a former journalist now working for the government. Here he writes in his personal capacity.

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