The information and documents on this timeline should be read in the context of the pre-1994 situation. Eastern Cape history lies at the centre of the basic national historical narrative of colonial conquest, land dispossession, oppression, liberation struggle, 1994 democratic break-through and post-1994 efforts to build a new society. Here we present a short history both from the perspective of:
- The Eastern Cape as the heartland of the struggle for liberation and birthplace of modern African intellectualism, and
- Actions by both the colonial powers and apartheid government relevant to the situation that the fledgling Eastern Cape Government inherited in 1994.
Firstly, the Eastern Cape was ravaged by the large-scale dispossession of peoples’ land and assets combined with brutal repression for more than three centuries. The process of restoration and restitution has inevitably been lengthy and in some instances exceptionally complex.
Secondly, it is important to recognise that the Eastern Cape was the heartland of resistance. This was true during the colonial era and also during the struggle for liberation against apartheid repression and white minority rule.
The defiance campaign was initiated in the Eastern Cape and it was this province that had the highest levels of participation in mass struggle and the highest number of arrests and detentions. Perhaps testimony to that was the fact that the first hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were held in the Eastern Cape in East London.
A significant number of the leaders of the national liberation struggle hailed from the Eastern Cape, one of whom, Raymond Mhlaba, was to become its first premier in 1994 and correctly, the province has elected to market itself as being the "Home of Legends”. This is being reinforced by the various memorials erected to the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle and the establishment of liberation routes.
It is the desire to recreate the spirit of selfless sacrifice that has resulted in calls for a new wave of volunteering andactivism that characterised this period, perhaps bestarticulated by then President Thabo Mbeki in 2000 with his cry for the creation of a "new cadre”.
Thirdly, the Eastern Cape is recognised as the "birthplace of modern African intellectualism” in Southern African.Many political, government, business and academic leaders from across Southern Africa attended institutions such as Lovedale College and the University of Fort Hare.
This raises the question of how the Eastern Cape is to set about restoring its place as a knowledge and intellectual hub, taking advantage of the fact that it has four universities. It would be correct to point out in this regard that significant research in a number of fields has been conducted at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) InnoVention and at the Science and Technology Park (STP) established in the East London IDZ. The use of algae to convert millions of tons of coal dust waste annually into clean coal (NMMU) and stem cell research are examples of this.
Fourthly, actions by the colonial powers and apartheid government had a major effect on the situation that was inherited by the new provincial government in 1994. The Eastern Cape developed economically as a labour reserve for the mines and the extent to which this still remains true was illustrated by the number of those killed at Marikana who came from this province.
The effect of this was to place the Eastern Cape on the economic margins, with rural areas largely dependent on remittances from the mines. The decline in employment on the mines has resulted in falling incomes from remittances and rising unemployment. It is fair to conclude that the deep levels of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment which are dominant characteristics of the Eastern Cape are the direct result of the colonial and apartheid legacy.
A fifth, important element was the "homeland” policy pursued by the National Party government. One element of this was the provision of decentralisation incentives aimed at luring investment into the homelands and, in the case of the Eastern Cape to locations such as Butterworth, Dimbaza and Whittlesea among others. The withdrawal of the incentives led to the flight on investors leaving a host of abandoned factories in these areas with a devastating impacton local communities.