Acknowledging Mangope’s leadership attributes is no yearning for Bantustans

Mike Siluma missed the gist of ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba’s article about the positive attributes of late Bophuthatswana leader Kgosi Lucas Mangope. Equating Mashaba’s favourable comparison of Mangope’s policy achievements with ‘’longing for the vile and largely unlamented homelands or Bantustan system’’ is a logical fallacy.

Indeed, as Siluma correctly points out – which is irrelevant to Mashaba’s theme –  the homeland governments, including the independence of Bophuthatswana, were part of the apartheid grand scheme, which was to exploit long-existing ethnic identities to encourage the different groups to regard themselves as races that didn’t belong to the same nation-state as the white settler race. It is important to note that there is a difference between ‘’homelands’’ (territories) and ‘’homeland system’’ (the politico-legal system under the aegis of apartheid). The National Party didn’t invent the homelands. The ethnic groups, tribes and clans that constitute the black race existed in different parts of the region long before the arrival of Europeans and the creation in 1910 of the Union of South Africa, which brought them together into a common nation-state and borders. 

In this nation, blacks were second-class citizens with no franchise, no educational opportunities, few labour rights and limited socioeconomic amenities. For example, from 1953 the new apartheid government stopped building houses and high schools in townships until the 70s when the John Vorster government relaxed influx controls

‘’Quantitatively Africans lagged far behind South Africa’s White children’s education. In 1953 some 41% of African children of school age were enrolled in schools, but more than 90% of this number were in primary classes. Historically there has been a tremendous drop-out rate between the third and eighth years of school (Standard I to Standard VI), so that few of the African children in school in 1953 would have remained in school for more than perhaps four years. In 1953, for example, roughly 3.5% of the 900,000 Africans in school were in post-primary classes, making a total of about 31,000 between Forms I and V. In higher education, there were just over 1,000 in university: 555 taking correspondence courses from the University of South Africa; 300 at Fort Hare; and about 200 at Natal, Witwatersrand, and Cape Town’’ (Jefferson Murphy: Schools for Servitude:1972).

This research by an American scholar illustrates the great need for the expansion of education provision amongst black people during apartheid. Despite this education crisis, some black teachers resigned rather than teach an inferior curriculum. However, if they didn’t emigrate they continued to work in the broader apartheid system as journalists, shebeen owners and tradesmen.  Others, like Mangope, remained in the Bantu education system because little education was better than none. ‘’Liberation now, education later’’ was no option under the jackboot of apartheid and would only have been suicidal for the black population.

Nowhere in his article, directly or by implication, does Mashaba glorify the system. A cursory search of Sunday Times archives can produce Mashaba’s denunciation of the racist policy more than once. However, it is one thing to denounce a vile political system and quite another to acknowledge the good people who worked within the system; who took the lemon to create lemonade, so to speak. 

Against orthodoxy, Mangope was wrong to promote Tswana ethnonationalism and accept independence contrary to popular sentiment at the time. But that is how he chose to serve the black nation. And there is no evidence to support any suggestion that Bophuthatswana actually benefitted the white establishment and impoverished black people. The opposite is true as Mashaba ably demonstrates. Rather than criticize Mangope at the level of governance, including how Bophuthatswana benefitted whites or failed to deliver at the socioeconomic level to rebut Mashaba’s evaluation, Siluma tangentially goes for apartheid itself, creating the impression that homelands were invariably run by evil men doing the bidding of white masters. And that as children growing up in those places we were in some sort of prison

What Mashaba is doing is to advise that the value system of Bophuthatswana, based on African traditional and Christian morality, should have been preserved and found a place in libertarian constitutionalism of the post 1994 dispensation. The latter has thrown up unintended consequences like rugged individualism which comes with abuse of political power, erosion of group solidarity, disdain for tradition and loss of respect for public property.

Mangope’s leadership was rooted in clan culture. This was seen in successfully crowdfunding, among ordinary people, to establish the University of Bophuthatswana while building a decent public service. Thousands of black people – regardless of ethnicity – from townships and villages across the continent found jobs there: rural areas benefitted from expatriate doctors, agricultural extension officers and math and science teachers, to name but a few. Exiles came back to join Bophuthatswana system, which later bequeathed to the ANC government a large contingent of skilled black people who helped implement post-apartheid reforms. Amongst them are a former chief justice, judges, a minister of education and foreign affairs and other personalities of rank. 

Building for future generations is leadership by any standard

Working in the system myself and aware of its illegitimacy, I was nevertheless in no doubt about the vital services that the hospitals, schools, courts, electricity and other infrastructure provided to millions of poor, often uneducated and semi-employed simple folk. Would Siluma and other arm-chair critics have preferred that Mangope and millions of black public servants in the so-called homelands didn’t serve their people under apartheid when they were able to do so?  While under President Mbeki the ANC built a new public sector on the infrastructure of apartheid and Bophuthatswana, the current ANC government is in destruction and looting mode – many people of the North West suggest that the ANC is deliberately destroying Mangope’s legacy because they can’t match his output. 

By the way, the ANC’s commission of enquiry found no evidence of corruption in the Bophuthatswana system and the municipalities of the Western Transvaal.

This is the gist of Mashaba’s article. 

Gauta komane worked for Bophuthatswana Department of justice and later the ANC as policy researcher. He’s a member of ActionSA and an independent development practitioner