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A Bantustan (also known as Bantu homeland, black homeland, black state or simply homeland; Afrikaans: Bantoestan) was a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia), as part of the policy of apartheid. Ten Bantustans were established in South Africa, and ten in neighbouring South West Africa (then under South African administration), for the purpose of concentrating the members of designated ethnic groups, thus making each of those territories ethnically homogeneous as the basis for creating "autonomous" nation states for South Africa's different black ethnic groups. In terms of the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970, blacks were stripped of their South African citizenship, which deprived them of their few remaining political and civil rights in South Africa, and made them citizens of their designated homelands.
The term was first used in the late 1940s and was coined from Bantu (meaning "people" in some of the Bantu languages) and -stan (a suffix meaning "land" in the Persian language and some Persian-influenced languages of western, central, and southern Asia). It was regarded as a disparaging term by some critics of the apartheid-era government's "homelands" (from Afrikaans tuisland). The word "bantustan", today, is often used in a pejorative sense when describing a region that lacks any real legitimacy, consists of several unconnected enclaves, or emerges from national or international gerrymandering.
Four of the South African Bantustans—Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei (the so-called "TBVC States")—were declared independent, but this was not recognised outside South Africa. Other South African Bantustans (like KwaZulu, Lebowa, and QwaQwa) received partial autonomy but were never granted independence. In South West Africa, Ovamboland, Kavangoland, and East Caprivi were granted self-determination. The Bantustans were abolished with the end of apartheid and re-joined South Africa proper in 1994.
British colonial administrations in the 19th century, and subsequent South African governments, had established "reserves" in 1913 and 1936, with the intention of segregating black South Africans from whites. When the National Party came to power in 1948, Minister for Native Affairs (and later Prime Minister of South Africa) Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd built on this, introducing a series of measures that reshaped South African society such that whites would be the demographic majority. The creation of the homelands or Bantustans was a central element of this strategy, as the long-term goal was to make the Bantustans independent. As a result, blacks would lose their South African citizenship and voting rights, allowing whites to remain in control of South Africa.
"The term 'Bantustan' was used by apartheid's apologists in reference to the partition of India in 1947. However, it quickly became pejorative in left and anti-apartheid usage, where it remained, while being abandoned by the National Party in favour of 'homelands'."
"While apartheid was an ideology born of the will to survive or, put differently, the fear of extinction, Afrikaner leaders differed on how best to implement it. While some were satisfied with segregationist policies placing them at the top of a social and economic hierarchy, others truly believed in the concept of 'separate but equal'. For the latter, the ideological justification for the classification, segregation, and denial of political rights was the plan to set aside special land reserves for black South Africans, later called 'bantustans' or 'homelands'. Each ethnic group would have its own state with its own political system and economy, and each would rely on its own labour force. These independent states would then coexist alongside white South Africa in a spirit of friendship and collaboration. In their own areas, black citizens would enjoy full rights."
Verwoerd argued that the Bantustans were the "original homes" of the black peoples of South Africa. In 1951, the government of Daniel François Malan introduced the Bantu Authorities Act to establish "homelands" allocated to the country's black ethnic groups. These amounted to 13% of the country's land, the remainder being reserved for the white population. The homelands were run by cooperative tribal leaders, while uncooperative chiefs were forcibly deposed. Over time, a ruling black elite emerged with a personal and financial interest in the preservation of the homelands. While this aided the homelands' political stability to an extent, their position was still entirely dependent on South African support.
The role of the homelands was expanded in 1959 with the passage of the Bantu Self-Government Act, which set out a plan called "Separate Development". This enabled the homelands to establish themselves in the long term as self-governing territories and ultimately as nominally fully "independent" states.
This process was to be achieved in a series of four major steps for each homeland:
This general framework was not in each case followed in a clear-cut way, but often with a number of intermediate and overlapping steps.
The homeland of Transkei served in many regards as a "testing ground" for apartheid policies; its institutional development started already before the 1959 act, and its attainment of self-government and independence were therefore implemented earlier than for the other homelands.
This plan was stepped up under Verwoerd's successor as prime minister, John Vorster, as part of his "enlightened" approach to apartheid. However, the true intention of this policy was to fulfill Verwoerd's original plan to make South Africa's blacks nationals of the homelands rather than of South Africa—thus removing the few rights they still had as citizens. The homelands were encouraged to opt for independence, as this would greatly reduce the number of black citizens of South Africa. The process of creating the legal framework for this plan was completed by the Black Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970, which formally designated all black South Africans as citizens of the homelands, even if they lived in "white South Africa", and cancelled their South African citizenship, and the Bantu Homelands Constitution Act of 1971, which provided a general blueprint for the stages of constitutional development of all homelands (except Transkei) from the establishment of Territorial Authorities up to full independence.
The following table shows the time-frame of the institutional and legal development of the ten South African Bantustans in light of the above-mentioned four major steps:
|Homeland||Tribe/Nation||Establishment of a unified territorial authority||Establishment of a legislative assembly||Self-Government||Nominal independence||Notes|
|Transkei||Xhosa||1956||1963||1963||1976||A forerunner of the Territorial Authority and the Legislative Assembly had already existed since 1931 under the name "United Transkeian Territories General Council".|
|Bophuthatswana||Tswana||1961||1971||1972||1977||The Territorial Authority established in 1961 was reorganised in 1968.|
|Venda||Venda||1962||1971||1973||1979||The Territorial Authority established in 1962 was reorganised in 1969.|
|Ciskei||Xhosa||1961||1971||1972||1981||A forerunner of the Territorial Authority and the Legislative Assembly had previously existed from 1934 to 1955 under the name "Ciskeian General Council". The Territorial Authority established in 1961 was reorganised in 1968.|
|Lebowa||Northern Sotho (Pedi)||1962||1971||1972||—||The Territorial Authority established in 1962 was reorganised in 1969.|
|Gazankulu||Tsonga (Shangaan)||1962||1971||1973||—||The Territorial Authority established in 1962 was reorganised in 1969.|
|KaNgwane||Swazi||1976||1977||1984||—||The homeland status was temporarily suspended between June and December 1982.|
In parallel with the creation of the homelands, South Africa's black population was subjected to a massive programme of forced relocation. It has been estimated that 3.5 million people were forced from their homes from the 1960s through the 1980s, many being resettled in the Bantustans.
The government made clear that its ultimate aim was the total removal of the black population from South Africa. Connie Mulder, the Minister of Plural Relations and Development, told the House of Assembly on 7 February 1978:
If our policy is taken to its logical conclusion as far as the black people are concerned, there will be not one black man with South African citizenship ... Every black man in South Africa will eventually be accommodated in some independent new state in this honourable way and there will no longer be an obligation on this Parliament to accommodate these people politically.
But this goal was not achieved. Only a minority (about 39% in 1986) of South Africa's black population lived in the Bantustans; the remainder lived in South Africa proper, many in townships, shanty-towns and slums on the outskirts of South African cities.
Bantustans within the borders of South Africa were classified as "self-governing" or "independent". In theory, self-governing Bantustans had control over many aspects of their internal functioning but were not yet sovereign nations. Independent Bantustans (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei; also known as the TBVC states) were intended to be fully sovereign. In reality, they had no economic infrastructure worth mentioning and, with few exceptions, encompassed swaths of disconnected territory. This meant that the Bantustans were little more than puppet states controlled by South Africa.
Throughout the existence of the "independent" Bantustans, South Africa remained the only country to recognise their independence. Nevertheless, internal organisations of many countries, as well as the South African government, lobbied for their recognition. For example, upon the foundation of Transkei, the Swiss-South African Association encouraged the Swiss government to recognise the new state. In 1976, leading up to a United States House of Representatives resolution urging the President not to recognise Transkei, the South African government intensely lobbied lawmakers to oppose the bill. While the bill fell short of its needed two-thirds vote, a simple majority of lawmakers nevertheless supported the resolution. Each TBVC state extended recognition to the other independent Bantustans while South Africa showed its commitment to the notion of TBVC sovereignty by building embassies in the TBVC capitals.
The Bantustans were generally poor, with few local employment opportunities. However, some opportunities did exist for advancement for blacks and some advances in education and infrastructure were made.
Their single most important home-grown source of revenue was the provision of casinos and topless revue shows, which the National Party government had prohibited in South Africa proper as being immoral. This provided a lucrative source of income for the South African elite, who constructed megaresorts such as Sun City in the homeland of Bophuthatswana. Bophuthatswana also possessed deposits of platinum, and other natural resources, which made it the wealthiest of the Bantustans.
However, the homelands were only kept afloat by massive subsidies from the South African government; for instance, by 1985 in Transkei, 85% of the homeland's income came from direct transfer payments from Pretoria. The Bantustans' governments were invariably corrupt and little wealth trickled down to the local populations, who were forced to seek employment as "guest workers" in South Africa proper. Millions of people had to work in often appalling conditions, away from their homes for months at a time. On the other hand, only 40% of Bophuthatswana's population worked outside the 'homeland' because the homeland was able to create industrial sites like Zone 15 and Babelegi.
Not surprisingly, the homelands were extremely unpopular among the urban black population, many of whom lived in squalor in slum housing. Their working conditions were often equally poor, as they were denied any significant rights or protections in South Africa proper. The allocation of individuals to specific homelands was often quite arbitrary. Many individuals assigned to homelands did not live in or originate from the homelands to which they were assigned, and the division into designated ethnic groups often took place on an arbitrary basis, particularly in the case of people of mixed ethnic ancestry.
Bantustan leaders were widely perceived as collaborators with the Apartheid system, although some were successful in acquiring a following. Most homeland leaders had an ambivalent stance regarding the independence of their homelands: a majority was sceptical, remained cautious and avoided a definite decision, some outright rejected it due to their rejection of "separate development" and a professed commitment to "opposing apartheid from within the system", whilst others believed that nominal independence could serve to consolidate their power bases (to an even higher degree than the, in fact, already quite powerful status they enjoyed as rulers of self-governing homelands) and presented an opportunity to build a society relatively free from racial discrimination. In general, the leaders of the Bantustans, despite their overall collaboration and often-times collusion with the apartheid regime, did not shy away from occasionally attacking the South African government's racial policies and calling for the repeal or softening of apartheid laws (most of which were repealed in nominally independent states). Various plans for a federal solution were at times mooted, both by the Bantustan governments and by opposition parties in South Africa as well as circles inside the white ruling National Party. 
In January 1985, State President P. W. Botha declared that blacks in South Africa proper would no longer be deprived of South African citizenship in favour of Bantustan citizenship and that black citizens within the independent Bantustans could reapply for South African citizenship; F. W. de Klerk stated on behalf of the National Party during the 1987 general election that "every effort to turn the tide [of black workers] streaming into the urban areas failed. It does not help to bluff ourselves about this. The economy demands the permanent presence of the majority of blacks in urban areas ... They cannot stay in South Africa year after year without political representation." In March 1990 de Klerk, who succeeded Botha in 1989, announced that his government would not grant independence to any more Bantustans.
These remarks were however by no means meant as a rejection of the Bantustan system in general: the goal of the apartheid regime during the second half of the 1980s was to "modernize" the organisational framework of apartheid while leaving its fundamental principles (including the homelands) unchanged.
The government was forced to accept the permanent presence of blacks in urban areas as well as the practical unfeasibility of the hitherto very strict forms of "influx control" (replacing it by "softer" means of control), not to mention the impossibility of a total removal of all blacks to the homelands even in the long run. It was hoping to "pacify" the black urban population by developing various plans to confer upon them limited rights at the local level (but not the upper levels of government). Furthermore, the urban (and rural) residential areas remained segregated based on race in accordance with the Group Areas Act.
"Separate development" as a principle remained in force, and the apartheid regime went on to rely on the Bantustans as one of the main pillars of its policy in dealing with the black population. Until 1990, attempts continued to urge self-governing homelands to opt for independence (e.g. Lebowa, Gazankulu and KwaZulu) and on occasion the governments of self-governing homelands (e.g. KwaNdebele) themselves expressed interest in obtaining eventual independence.
It was also contemplated in circles of the ruling National Party to create additional nominally independent entities in the urban areas in the form of "independent" black "city states".
The long-term vision during this time was the creation of some form of a multi-racial "confederation of South African states" with a common citizenship, but separated into racially defined areas. Plans were made (of which only very few were realised) for the development of different "joint" institutions charged with mutual consultation, deliberation and a number of executive functions in relation to "general affairs" common to all population groups, insofar as these institutions would pose no threat to apartheid and the preservation of overall white rule. This "confederation" would include the so-called "common area" — meaning the bulk of South African territory outside of the homelands — under continued white-minority rule and limited power-sharing arrangements with the segregated Coloured and Indian/Asian population groups, the independent and self-governing homelands as well as possible additional black entities in urban areas.
From 1990 to 1994 these "confederational" ideas were in principle still entertained by large parts of the National Party (and in various forms also by certain parties and groups of the white liberal opposition), but their overtly race-based foundations gradually became less pronounced in the course of the negotiations to end apartheid, and the focus shifted to securing "minority rights" (having in mind primarily the white population in particular) after an expected handover of power to the black majority. Federalist plans also met with support from some homeland governments and parties, most importantly the Inkatha Freedom Party, which was the ruling party of KwaZulu. But since especially the African National Congress made it clear that the principles of "one man - one vote" and a unitary state were non-negotiable, (con-)federal schemes were eventually dropped. Because of this, the Inkatha Freedom Party threatened to boycott the April 1994 elections that ended apartheid and decided only in the last minute to participate in them after concessions had been made to them and as well as to the still ruling National Party and several white opposition groups.
In the period leading up to the elections in 1994, several leaders in the independent and self-governing homelands (e.g. in Boputhatswana), who did not wish to relinquish their power, vehemently opposed the dismantling of the Bantustans and, in doing so, received support from white far-right parties, sections of the apartheid state apparatus and radical pro-apartheid groups like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging.
With the demise of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1994, all Bantustans (both nominally independent and self-governing) were dismantled and their territories reincorporated into the Republic of South Africa with effect from 27 April 1994 (the day on which the Interim Constitution, which formally ended apartheid, came into force and the first democratic elections began) in terms of section 1(2) and Schedule 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993 ("Interim Constitution").
The drive to achieve this was spearheaded by the African National Congress (ANC) as a central element of its programme of reform. Reincorporation was mostly achieved peacefully, although there was some resistance from the local elites, who stood to lose out on the opportunities for wealth and political power provided by the homelands. The dismantling of the homelands of Bophuthatswana and Ciskei was particularly difficult. In Ciskei, South African security forces had to intervene in March 1994 to defuse a political crisis.
From 1994, most parts of the country were constitutionally redivided into new provinces.
Nevertheless, many leaders of former Bantustans or Homelands have had a role in South African politics since their abolition. Some had entered their own parties into the first non-racial election while others joined the ANC. Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chief minister of his KwaZulu homeland from 1976 until 1994. In post-apartheid South Africa he has served as president of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Minister of Home Affairs. Bantubonke Holomisa, who was a general in the homeland of Transkei from 1987, has served as the president of the United Democratic Movement since 1997. General Constand Viljoen, an Afrikaner who served as chief of the South African Defence Force, sent 1,500 of his militiamen to protect Lucas Mangope and to contest the termination of Bophuthatswana as a homeland in 1994. He founded the Freedom Front in 1994. Lucas Mangope, former chief of the Motsweda Ba hurutshe-Boo-Manyane tribe of the Tswana and head of Bophuthatswana is president of the United Christian Democratic Party, effectively a continuation of the ruling party of the homeland. Oupa Gqozo, the last ruler of Ciskei, entered his African Democratic Movement in the 1994 elections but was unsuccessful. The Dikwankwetla Party, which ruled Qwaqwa, remains a force in the Maluti a Phofung council where it is the largest opposition party. The Ximoko Party, which ruled Gazankulu, has a presence in local government in Giyani. Similarly, the former KwaNdebele chief minister George Mahlangu and others formed the Sindawonye Progressive Party which is one of the major opposition parties in Thembisile Hani Local Municipality and Dr JS Moroka Local Municipality (encompassing the territory of the former homeland).
The homelands are listed below with the ethnic group for which each homeland was designated. Four were nominally independent (the so-called TBVC states of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and the Ciskei). The other six had limited self-government:
|Nominal independence |
Mafeking (provisionally, until 1977)
Sibasa (provisionally, until 1979)
Zwelitsha (provisionally, until 1981)
Seshego (provisionally, until 1974)
|Northern Sotho (Pedi)||1972–1994|
|QwaQwa||Phuthaditjhaba (until 1974 called Witsieshoek)||Southern Sotho||1974–1994|
Nongoma (provisionally, until 1980)
Siyabuswa (provisionally, until 1986)
Schoemansdal (provisionally, until the mid-1980s)
The first Bantustan was the Transkei, under the leadership of Chief Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima in the Cape Province for the Xhosa nation. KwaZulu, for the Zulu nation in Natal Province, was headed by a member of the Zulu royal family chief Mangosuthu ("Gatsha") Buthelezi in the name of the Zulu king.
Lesotho and Swaziland were not Bantustans; they have been independent countries and former British protectorates. These countries are mostly or entirely surrounded by South African territory and are almost totally dependent on South Africa. They have never had any formal political dependence on South Africa and were recognised as sovereign states by the international community from the time they were granted their independence by the UK in the 1960s.
Beginning in 1968, following the 1964 recommendations of the commission headed by Fox Odendaal, ten homelands similar to those in South Africa were established in South West Africa (present-day Namibia). The term "Bantustan" is somewhat inappropriate in this context, since some of the peoples involved were Khoisan not Bantu, and the Rehoboth Basters are a complex case. Of these ten South West African homelands, only three were granted self-government (comparable to the Bantustans in South Africa) between 1973 and 1976.
In July 1980 the system was changed to one of separate governments ("representative authorities") as second-tier administrative units (responsible for a number of affairs like land tenure, agriculture, education up to the level of primary school teachers' training, health services, and social welfare and pensions) on the basis of ethnicity only and no longer based on geographically defined areas. Building upon institutions that had already been in existence since 1925 and 1962 respectively, representative authorities were also instituted for the White and Coloured population groups. No such representative authorities were established for the Himba and San peoples (mainly occupying their former homelands of Kaokoland and Bushmanland).
These ethnic second-tier governments were abolished in May 1989 at the start of the transition to independence.
|Bantustan||Capital||Most represented tribe||Legislative Council established||Self-government||Representative Authority Years|
|East Caprivi||Katima Mulilo||Lozi||1972||1976||1980-1989|
The term "bantustan" has been used in a number of non-South African contexts, generally to refer to actual or perceived attempts to create ethnically based states or regions. Its connection with apartheid has meant that the term is now generally used in a pejorative sense as a form of criticism.
In the Middle East, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are sometimes described as Israeli bantustans. Jeff Halper in Haaretz wrote in 2018, "The 'Two-state Solution' only ever meant a big Israel ruling over a Palestinian bantustan."
In South Asia, the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka has been accused of turning Tamil areas into "bantustans". The term has also been used to refer to the living conditions of Dalits in India.