The Ciskei Bantustan in the Eastern Cape was created as an enclave for the South Africa’s Xhosa-speaking people as part of apartheid racial segregation. Despite Government rhetoric that this ‘independent state’ would encourage cultural protection and separate development of these people, the Ciskei along with other Bantustans served to provide White South Africa with cheap, controlled labour pools.
The working population of Zwelitsha township, first declared the capital of Ciskei, were mostly employed in nearby ‘White’ towns such as Grahamstown. Later a new capital of Bisho in King Williams town was declared.
Ciskei history dates to the early 1920s, when the South African Union government restructured the Bunga system that was applied to administer the area under British colonial rule. The Bunga, which was an advisory council, comprising traditional authorities and the educated elite held little power. The Bunga local unit consisted of a headman or the traditional inkundla (local assemblies) system. Before colonial rule these were autonomous and their decisions were collective. Within the Bunga system, local assembly authority was subject to the Magistrate’s Court. The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 withdrew their remaining power, bringing them under direct control of the government. Traditional authorities were thus bureaucratised. Chiefs and headmen were no longer accountable to their people, but to the government. The purpose of Bantu Authorities was to pave the way for the creation of Bantustans and racial segregation. This caused much anger.
The government of Ciskei was formed in 1961 after the South African government declared it a separate administrative territory. In 1972 the status was elevated to self-governing territory. This coincided with stronger efforts to forcibly remove Xhosa-speakers to Ciskei. On 4 December 1982, Ciskei became an independent republic, recognised only by the South African government and other ‘independent’ homeland states in South Africa.
Most South Africans rejected and fought against the idea of Ciskei. “Ciskeians” lost their South African citizenship. The Ciskei remained with its neighbour, Transkei, among the most neglected areas of South Africa. Jobs in the Ciskei were limited to government or government-sponsored projects, and South African-sponsored factories. Most of these factories were neither economically viable nor legal entities in terms of labour practice. They were mostly Taiwanese owned emerged out efforts to attract foreign investors with promises of cheap labour and repression of unions. These factories became the target of popular anger in the final days of the Apartheid regime. After the 1994 democratic elections in South Africa, bantustans were dissolved and the area known as Ciskei , restored to the Eastern Cape province.