Jeff Peires, an authority on the history of the Xhosa-speaking peoples, worked at Rhodes University in the eastern Cape before becoming head of department at the black University of the Transkei. An activist as well as a scholar, he has recently been elected an ANC member of parliament. Peires’s article represents a critique of state attempts to create tribalism in the homelands, and of the African politicians who sought to take advantage of this strategy. Here, he argues that ethnicity in the Ciskei was imposed from above, as the South African government sought to replace ‘puppet’ rulers in an area with a long tradition of nationalist political activity. He illustrates the moral uncertainty of the Ciskei’s rulers, the material corruption surrounding them (large sums of money were channelled through the homeland governments), and the politics of patronage that grew up around the homeland system. Unsuccessful attempts were made to bolster a Ciskeian identity through newly invented ceremonies and rituals. Jeff Peires’s article (originally published anonymously because of its political sensitivity) reflects a powerful element in South African history and social sciences which sees ethnicity as a divisive and undesirable force—in this case a mechanistic and corrupt affair.
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The Ciskei is unique among the South African Bantustan ‘homelands’ in that it has absolutely no basis in any ethnic, cultural or linguistic fact whatsoever. 1 Unlike Bophuthatswana, KwaZulu, Venda and other territories which are the designated homelands of speakers of the Tswana, Zulu, Venda and other languages,