The Transkei which means “the area beyond the Kei River” is a region situated in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is also the name of an Apartheid-era Bantustan (1959-94) corresponding to this territory. The Transkei is bordered by the Umtamvuna River in the north and the Great Kei River in the south, while the Indian Ocean and the Drakensberg mountain range of the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho serve as the Transkei’s respective eastern and western frontiers. The Transkei has many rivers flowing from the mountains to the oceans, so unlike much of South Africa, it is relatively unscathed by drought. It is an area of rolling hills, beautiful coast line and picturesque farmlands.
For much of the 20th century, many black male farmers in the Transkei were forced by punitive taxes levied only on Africans, known as poll taxes, to head north by train to work under contracts underground in Johannesburg’s gold mines. Some never returned, crushed in rockfalls in mines with very low standards of safety for their workers. Others returned with dreadful lung diseases from inhaling particles, or tuberculosis. Migrant labour has continued to shape the Transkei ever since. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratic president, was born in the Transkei in 1918, and still has a home in Qunu.
In recent years, the Transkei area of the Eastern Cape has become a regular destination for tourists. The unspoilt Transkei has not been invaded by large hotel chains or any of the Westernized luxuries found elsewhere in South Africa and is especially attractive to tourists who seek an “African experience”.