Ciskei, the backyard of apartheid


The Transkei was first, then came Bophuthatswana, and then Venda. And on December 4 1981, Apartheid got a new backyard. They called it the Ciskei.


The people didn’t want the Ciskei . Who wants a country with nothing? Only disease, hunger, no jobs and police who can lock you up – for as long as they like.


Things went wrong from the beginning. When they lifted the new blue and white flag for the first time, the pole fell down. They tried again – and the pole fell down again.


The whole world laughed. But some people didn’t find it funny – like corporal Ngcobo, the man who knocked down the pole.


What happened to him? “He was drunk. We have done away with him,” said the “president’s” brother, a few months later.


The Ciskei began with a sick joke. But the joke did not last very long. The people suffered from the very beginning. And since July this year, things have got much, much worse. People are being killed and tortured, raped and beaten -all because they won’t use the buses anymore.


The people in Mdantsane stopped using buses when the fares went up. Mdantsane is a big township outside East London. It is part of the Ciskei.


Most people don’t have money for higher bus fares. People began to use trains and taxis instead. They said they won’t use the buses until the fares come down.

Now the police are trying to force the people to use the buses. Police and soldiers sit on the trains. Road blocks stop cars and taxis. Sebe’s men pull people out of the cars and beat them up.

One week after people stopped using buses, police and soldiers used their guns. When the people at Fort Jackson station did not get into the buses, Sebe’s boys started shooting. People say 90 people were killed and many hundred were hurt.


The Ciskei “government” are doing everything to make people use the buses. They have arrested the people’s leaders. And they have arrested hundreds of people. Their jails are full. Now they take people to the Sisa Dukashe sport’s stadium -where Sebe’s boys beat and torture the people.


They have also banned a big trade union called the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU). Thousands of workers in East London are members of SAAWU. Most of these workers live in Mdantsane.


They have arrested many of SAAWU’s leaders. And they have also arrested people from other trade unions.


Sebe’s boys are everywhere. They raid the trade union office every few days. They go from house to house – looking for SAAWU T.Shirts, membership cards, political books and newspapers.

Now the people are bitter and angry. When Sebe said he would make the fares a bit lower, the people were not interested. They still crowded into the trains and taxis. They still walked for many miles- in sun or rain. The people won’t talk or listen until their leaders are free.


“When the fares went up, the people chose a committee to talk to the bus company,” says one of the people’s leaders. ” We were ready to talk and listen. The company said they won’t talk to us. So we went back to the people. We decided to stop using the buses.


“Now Sebe’s men have killed many people. And nearly the whole committee is in jail. The people are in an angry mood. They will not talk peace until their leaders are free.”


The people in the Ciskei live in fear. But they are strong and united. The buses are empty – the bus company is losing millions of rands. And now the school children in Mdantsane and Duncan Village have joined their parents in the struggle. They have stopped going to classes.


And last month, twelve organizations around the country started a committee to help the people in the Ciskei. They also say Sebe must allow SAAWU to carry on with it’s work. These organizations are:

  1. United Democratic Front (UDF)

  2. South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU)

  3. Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA)

  4. Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU)

  5. Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (CCAWUSA)

  6. African, Food and Canning Workers Union (AFCWU )

  7. South African Chemical Workers Union (SACWU )

  8. General and Allied Workers Union (GAWU)

  9. South African Laundry and Dry­cleaning Workers Union (SALDWU )

  10. South African Scooter Drivers Union (SASDU)

  11. Orange Vaal General Workers Union (OVGWU)

  12. Detainees Support Committee (DESCOM)

The committee is helping the people of Ciskei in two ways.

  1. They want everybody to tell their fellow workers and friends what is happening in the Ciskei. They want the world to know what is happen­ing in the Ciskei.

  2. They are collecting money in their union and community organizations for the people in Ciskei. The people in Ciskei really do need help. Many breadwinners are hurt or in jail. Rents must be paid and children must be fed.

Do you want to help the people of the Ciskei. Write to: SAAWU and Border Solidarity Committee P.O. Box 25063 FERRElRASTOWN 2048

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