The “homelands” policy of the Apartheid-era government in South Africa has had numerous long-lasting consequences for those affected. The policy involved moving those of different ethnic groups or tribes to specific areas in the country, often forcibly, and often to areas with minimal potential for farming or income-generation. This led to wide-scale poverty, unemployment and hunger for those left in these areas, and also contributed to the break-up of many families – the family breadwinners (often the father or son in a family) would leave for the city to find work, returning only once or twice a year, if at all. Many would send money to their families on a monthly basis, while others would simply disappear into the cities. The migratory nature of many of the men from these communities also led to an increase in sexually transmitted infections, as men would have numerous wives or girlfriends, or visit prostitutes while away from their families, become infected, and then return home and pass the infections on to their wives or girlfriends in the villages. Opportunities for education in these areas were also often minimal, and many children and adults remained illiterate – those that could access education often had to drop out of school to work to raise money to help feed their families. Thus, the homelands policy led to widespread poverty, land loss, lack of education, unemployment, and the break-up of families.
Two areas which perhaps suffered the most during this time were the homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei in the Eastern Cape. Despite government attempts to address the pervasive poverty through land restitution, poverty alleviation initiatives, and job-creation drives, many villages remain entrenched in deep poverty. Cata village, near Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape, is one such example. In a 2001 census, it was found that 43% of houses had no source of income; while only 6% had an income of more than R1600 a month (under R1500 a month was defined as being below the poverty line); and only 2% of people had permanent jobs. 100 people in the village (out of approximately 2000) had completed high school; and almost 50% had less education than a grade 7. Only 3% of households used electricity for cooking.
All residents of the villages are affected by the long-term impacts of the former policies. However, women and children often bore the brunt of this. Men left the areas to find work in towns, leaving the women to head households in their absence, and to try to earn an income, as well as raise the children. Tribal authorities in these areas are also often male-dominated, and women have little or no say in their decisions.