When Transkei's ambassador at large corners U.S. congressmen and senators to recite the reasons why his country should be recognized by the U.S. government, he unfolds a U.S. War Department map of Africa from the 1890s and points to the spot marked "Transkei" to bolster his arguments.
"'See,' I tell them," Ambassador Ngqondi Masimini relates, "'your won government's map shows Transkei long before South Africa existed in its present form.'"
But Masimini's affable manner and historical arguments fail to convince, and Transkei, the first black area to become an "independent" state under South Africa's policy of separate development for nonwhites, wanders in a diplomatic wilderness, shunned by the international community.
No country except South Africa has recognized Transkei since South Africa declared it independent in October 1976, and no country appears likely to
The problem is that Transkei represents the ultimate in the South African racial separation policy of apartheid, recently renamed "plural democracy," under which the nation's 18 million blacks are being assigned to nine homelands largely on the basis of what language they speak.
In the end, these 18 million will no longer be South Africans, but citizens of nine independent countries that critics note will put 75 percent of the population on 13 percent of the land noticeably excluding major industrial and urban areas, as well as the gold mines of the Transvaal.
Divided into three separate pieces, which together are twice the size of Israel, Transkei is a land of beautiful mountains, forests and rivers that descend onto the rugged 200-mile Wild Coast along the Indian Ocean. It is in Transkei that 4 million speakers of Xhosa, the click language made famous by Mirriam Makeba's "click song," are to exercise their national political aspirations.
The question of just how independent Transkei is becomes complex especially when the answer is measured in money.
Parking meters in downtown Umtata, the country's capital, still take South Africa 5 cent pieces and in fact South African currency is used for all financial transactions. Transkei imports 90 percent of its food from South Africa and all of its fuel. Half of Transkei's current budget comes from South Africa, largely from customs duties and taxes on the wages of Transkeian workers collected in South Africa.
Compounding the economic dependence on South Africa is Transkei's heated claim to land parcels that the white government refuses to give up, although they show as parts of Transkei on old documents such as Masimini's U.S. map.
Pretoria's apparent refusal to take seriously Transkei's claims to the area known as East Griqualand so enraged Prime Minister Kaiser D. Matanzima that he exercised his new sovereign rights April 10 and cut off diplomatic relations with South Africa.
Next Matanzima indicated to Pretoria that he considers all the pre-independence agreements are breakable on whim. He ended the mutual nonagression pact the two governments had signed.
Rupture of this pact means that South African naval vessels are supposed to steer clear of Transkeian waters and South African military planes must not overfly Transkeian air space.
Matanzima has also threatened to train his 323-man army "for the future confrontation with the whites of South Africa" and for retaking the lands he claims for Transkei.
The Transkeian leader dismissed the white South Africans who were training his army, which he intends to double this year, and replaced them with a black Transkeian brigadier.
Foreign Minister Digby Koyana recently invited "any African countries to come forward and train our officers and army and fill the vacuum which we have deliberately created by removing the South Africans."
Transkeian officials have even invited South Africa's arch enemies, the banned African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)> to open offices in Transkei.
The reaction to Matanzima's anti-South Africa stance has largely been wry smiles with some critics making references to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and others, like Transkeian opposition parliamentarian Sizahele MDA asking embarrassing questions in the legislative assembly.
"What do we do if South Africa cuts off our fuel? If their planes flew over the assembly, we could only go out and call them names," he said.
Despite Transkei's dubious status and uncertain future, the 60-odd roads that cross its borders with South Africa, only two of which have border control posts, lead to a place of striking beauty where residents say independence has brought changes, some of them for the better.
Most of the approximate 2.5 million Transkeians living here, unaware of the international repercussions of their independence, say they like it.
"It has so many privileges, like making our own laws, with our own leaders," said Ernest Fikeni, a $115-a-month policeman.
Like many other black Transkeians, Fikeni is reaping the benefits from the creation of Transkei's own independent bureaucracy. Police, Public Works and Post Office, to name a few departments, all once dominated by whites, have been turned over to blacks. The Post Office staff of 870 for example, was 74 percent white in 1974. By September, only 46 whites, left by pretoria as technical advisers to Transkei, will remain, making up five percent of the Post Office staff, according to Postmaster General Chris Maree, a white.
This development has been one of the basic arguments put forward by Pretoria as justification for the homelands. "Independence raises the standard of living and employment prospects and raises the (blacks) to status jobs. It's satisfaction of human aspirations," said Maree, who is now training a black Transkeian to take his place.
Other Transkeians are profiting from an artificial economic boom stiumlated by the needs of an independent government. Construction of ministerial and presidential residences, a university, new office buildings and hospitals has been proceeding at a lively pace over the past two years.
Despite some vestiges of South African including two white-only schools in Umtata and white rule, only wards in the main hospitals, most forms of racial discrimination have disappeared. Interracial couples, some of whom moved into Transkei from South Africa at its independence, live without fear of the police harassment and prosecution that they were subjected to in South Africa.
Mingling of the races in bars, restaurants, hotels and swimming pools goes on without incident, both races say. The whites, however, still manage to keep their sports clubs white by charging membership fees that most blacks cannot afford.
Of the 10,000 whites in Transkei before independence, it is estimated that about 7,000 remain. Only 10 have been granted Transkeian citizenship and 20 more have applied for it, according to the Transkei Department of Interior. The rest have been made "honorary blacks."
J. R. Williamson, a chartered accountant, is one of the applicants for citizenship. He came to Transkei in 1956 when it was still officially part of South Africa.
"There are good schools and churches here, the atmosphere is pleasant, it's a Christian country," Williamson said. "All the Transkeians ask of me is my positive good faith and sympathy."
Both blacks and whites report that race relations are harmonious.
"The whites have accepted (the changes), taken it normally, the right way," said black reporter Vuyani Mretyana, "They've shown that the heavens do not fall when things like this happen."
In Port St. Johns on Transkei's Wild Coast, a man who asked not to be named "because I want to stay here," said, when asked about changes, "Well, we've got four young (black) men who work in the bank living across the street (in what used to be an all white neighborhood). Fine blocks. Then we have a first-rate black magistrate and a black town clerk. But other than that, not much's changed, except the bridge was knocked out by the floods."
Another woman, a municipal employee, said she had only one complaint - "Well, it's just that they're not litter conscious yet."
The retreat of South African sovereignty has permitted the Transkei government to give refuge to many ANC and PAC members who fled South Africa and to offer a place where criticism of South Africa can openly and freely be voiced, according to Koyana and other government officials.
"We have done more for the liberation of South Africa by creating a place where discussion can be free," said Liston Ntshongwana, an aide to the prime minister.
But one is free to critize South Africa only so long as the Transkei government doesn't get caught in the barrage.
"One can shout loud and clear about South Africa," said the Rev. Mcebisi sundu, 45, "but one cannot shout loud and clear against the present government here." Xundu was detained for three months without charges by Matanzima's security police for his statements against homeland leaders like Matanzima at the funeral of black consciousness leader Steve Biko.
Another Transkeian, Cecil Vanda, who holds a degree in business administration from Colorado University, was held without charges for eight months before finally being charged with possession of a banned book. He was later acquitted.
"Transkei has re-enacted some of the more obnoxious laws of the Republic of South Africa," said black attorney and former politician Knowledge Guzana, referring to Transkei's law allowing indefinite detenton without trial. The law is similar to South Africa's terrorism law.
Despite their rejection by the world and charges by their own Xhosa-speaking relatives who live outside Transkei that they are "traitors" and "sellouts", Transkei government officials appear unperturbed at their predicament and optimistic that they will eventually win recognition. The recent visit of a representative of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, which has close associations with the Austrian government, has giften their confidence a boost.
Transkei deserves to be recognized, government officials say, because unlike the other eight black homelands under the government's apartheid plan, Transkei was a bona fide nation dating from the 1880's. They maintain that their country was illegally annexed onto South African territory in the 1890's and that when the four provinces making up South Africa were joined in 1910, Britain should have made Transkei a protectorate as it did with the black areas of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, all of which are now black states and members of the United Nations.
One official, Finance Minister Tsepo Letlaka, said Transkei went about gaining independence the wrong way. What the country should have done, he said, was to "go over the border, grab 100 whites, including women and children, bring them back, call the press and shoot them. And we would be recognized because we would call ourselves revolutionaries. It's as simple as that."