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The Transkei Puppet Show

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At the stroke of midnight next Monday, a 101-gun salute will mark the independence of the Transkei, a Denmark-sized territory on the eastern coast of South Africa. There will be tribal dancing, fireworks, feasting and bonfires, as there were to mark the birth of more than 40 African nations that have become independent in the past two decades. The difference is that in the eyes of most of the world, the independence of the Transkei— the first of the nine black tribal homelands that South Africa intends to set up as separate states—is a device by which Pretoria hopes to perpetuate the rule of its own white minority. Lee Griggs, TIME'S Africa bureau chief, visited the Transkei (meaning: across the River Kei) last week. His report:

In the normally sleepy town of Umtata (pop. 25,000), the cold and drizzle did not deter the frantic last-minute preparations for independence day. Giant yellow earthmovers groaned through the mud of the Transkei's capital, completing $12 million worth of new paved highways and carving out access roads to the newly completed $14 million airport and a $2.4 million Holiday Inn. The immediate purpose of all the construction is to prepare for distinguished visitors. The only head of state who has so far accepted an invitation to next week's ceremonies, however, is South Africa's President Nicolaas Diederichs, who has to be present anyway to hand over the official instruments of independence.

Shunned by Neighbors. Chief Minister Kaiser D. (for Daliwonga) Matanzima, 61, who heads the Transkei government, sent invitations to most countries of the world, only to receive formal rejections or silence. He is still hoping that conservative regimes in Taiwan, Paraguay, Malawi, Rhodesia and perhaps Ivory Coast may send delegations—but that will be about all. Even his nearest neighbors are shunning him. Swaziland says it will "continue to recognize the Transkei as a region of South Africa and nothing more," and Lesotho (which is surrounded by South Africa but, like Swaziland, was never part of it) has decided that the Transkei does not appear to "meet the requirements" of an independent state. Even the pretty black Miss Transkei has been ruled ineligible for the Miss World contest.

One of South Africa's nine homelands, or tribal reserves assigned to blacks, the Transkei will thus remain a stepchild of the white-supremacy government of Pretoria. Though its gross national product ($120 million) and per capita income ($130) exceed those of a dozen independent African states, the figures are misleading. Three-quarters of the Transkei's annual operating budget is contributed by South Africa, and 70% of its national income consists of remittances from members of the Xhosa tribe who work "abroad"—in the mines, factories and farms of white South Africa —as migrant laborers. Admits a black civil servant in one of Umtata's new government office buildings, "We are like a puppet show, with the whites pulling the strings as we dance to their tune."

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