The Nature of Internal Boundary Disputes: A Case Study of Matatiele Provincial Boundary Demarcation Dispute, Province of the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Phumlani Tyabazayo


This paper investigates the nature of internal boundary demarcation disputes using the Matatiele provincial boundary dispute. The paper also looks into community conflicts in the context of a broader theory of social conflict. The paper argues that internal boundary demarcation disputes are complex and unique from other disputes.

The paper further shows that internal boundary demarcation disputes are multi-faceted in nature. Important elements include access to resources and government services., identity, and culture .

Key Words

Internal boundaries, demarcation, Matatiele, Provincial boundary, social conflict, demarcation disputes, access to resources, identity, culture, government services


South Africa is a quasi-federal state comprised of a central government and nine provinces with limited powers and concurrent powers with the central government in some areas. The demarcation of these provinces has a direct bearing on a variety of issues such as local identity, tax bases and access to public services. It is for this reason that internal boundaries are important in South Africa.

These boundaries impact directly on the lives of the people and are fraught with political and emotional tension because people have attached meanings to these boundaries. These meanings not only have a geographical basis; they also impact directly on the material conditions of peoples’ lives. The boundaries will be viewed as exclusionary if they exclude the people from benefits they perceive they would otherwise be entitled to (Narsiah and Maharaj, 1999: 36).  

South Africa has a history of oppression and segregation. During apartheid, quality services were not offered to particular sections of the society. The post-apartheid government felt the need to restructure provincial boundaries to enhance access to quality services and to eradicate inequalities in public service (Nxumalo and Whittal, 2013: 325).The nature and process of boundary changes and the resulting new governmental structures established in 1994 were plagued by problems (Ramutsindela, 1998: 291). Due to the South Africa’s geographical vastness, its mineral resources and its legacy of regional and ethnic conflict, particular at ‘hostels’ in the mines and in the Natal, disputes were bound to arise during the demarcation of provincial boundaries. When the newly demarcated boundaries came into effect after the 1994 elections, several objections and disputes were lodged with the Commission on the Demarcation/Delimitation of Regions (Ramutsindela, 1999: 481).

When these boundary disputes erupted, the government’s position was that internal boundary disputes were not important, as South Africa was “one country” (Ramutsindela, 1998: 297). However, Griggs (1998) dispels this notion. He maintains that boundaries create the territorial space in which people live and distribute power to people whose lives are thereby influenced. Boundaries determine where people vote, create tax bases, construct regional identities and determine access to public services. The importance of boundaries to the people has been evident in the scale of violence that has erupted in boundary demarcation disputes. According to Griggs, most disputes have escalated beyond mass protest to involve violence, including killing, arson, land invasion, or wanton destruction of property. In Bushbuckridge, tens of millions of Rand in infrastructure were destroyed by disputants in the processes of boundary demarcation between Limpopo and Mpumalanga (Griggs, 1998).


Boundary disputes have to do with belonging within a certain territory. Ramutsindela and Simon (1999: 479) define a country’s territory as that area or space over which it has legitimate control; that is, within its internationally recognised borders. They believe that territory can also be understood as constituting socially constructed relations in space.

Chiozza and Choi (2003: 251) explain why a territory becomes a contested terrain in both international relations and domestic affairs. According to them, a territory is a tangible source of economic resources, a strategic asset and demographic container. They further view territory as an historic and religious homeland for people and an exclusive entity for the formation of national identity (Chiozza and Choi, 2003: 251). Rasler and Thompson (2006: 146) suggest that there should be little mystery about why territorial disagreements have important conflict potential. Most territory has some intrinsic value that people perceive to be worth fighting for, such as control over important resources, populations, or markets, even if those commodities are only potential or imagined. According to Ramutsindela (1998: 297), boundary disputes are a reflection of complex factors which include fighting for access to government services and manipulating political, social, religious and economic spaces.

Rasler and Thompson warned of the difficulty of resolving boundary disputes where the boundaries divide groups of people with common ethnic, linguistic, cultural or religious identities (Rasler and Thompson, 2006: 147). They also believe that territorial disputes act much like an endless sporting event in which both sides can readily tell who is winning or losing.

These disputes occur because citizens want control over important resources (Rasler and Thompson, 2006: 146). Knight (1985: 265) maintains that the importance of territory is that indigenous peoples want recognition of their distinctiveness. They want to keep whatever territory that is left to them and to regain land taken from them so as to have an adequate land-base support for their existence as distinct people. They want their cultures, language, social and legal institutions to be respected and recognised; they want the right to physical existence and the right to preserve a separate identity (Knight, 1985: 267). It is therefore important to understand the value that people attach to a territory and a need to quickly resolve potential territorial disputes. Tir (2006: 310) maintained that letting internal territorial disputes simmer may be dangerous. Domestic unrest can lead to general instability in the state leading to its collapse, thus providing an environment from which terrorist organisations could operate.


In 2006, as part of restructuring provincial boundaries, the government of South Africa took a decision to incorporate Matatiele into the Province of the Eastern Cape, removing it from the Province of Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN). Other areas moved to different Provinces were Khutsong (from Gauteng to North West), Bushbuckridge (from Mpumalanga to Limpopo) and Kgalagadi (from North West to the Northern Cape). The consequence of this decision was an eruption of rivalry and antagonism between those who favoured the decision (Pro-Eastern Cape) and those who were opposed to the decision (Pro-Kwa Zulu Natal).

In 2005, the South African Police Services (SAPS) warned of possible violence due to the incorporation of Matatiele into the Eastern Cape. At the time, the police station commander warned that, “The crowd was angry and had threatened violence…They will create havoc” (Sapa, IOL News: 16 November 2005).
In 2008, violence erupted in Matatiele when a group marched into the town to show their support of incorporation into the Eastern Cape. It is alleged that a group of about 400 people opposed to the decision, tried to block and disrupt the march, carrying knobkerries and sticks (Mbanjwa and Saville, The Witness: 16 October 2008). In an attempt to prevent violence between the two groups, police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd (Mbanjwa and Seville, The Witness: 16 October 2008). The result of this action was serious: eleven people were admitted to hospital with numerous injuries, one person was shot in the back with live ammunition, and shops were looted (Staff reporter, Mail & Guardian: 17 October 2008).


This paper is written from an interpretivist perspective with a qualitative approach. The paper contains analysis of primary data, as respondents were interviewed by the author.
This paper also interpreted data from available literature in the field. Ritchie and Lewis (2003: 61) argue that an analysis of existing qualitative research data can be a valuable resource, which will bring a new perspective to existing data, to use the elements of the data that have not been fully analysed and it can also form a base for comparison with newly collected data.

A total of approximately twelve respondents were interviewed using an in-depth and unstructured interviews. The respondents were comprised of one representative of each of the four prominent political structures in the area, one representative from a local Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), one representative of the local municipality, three community members who are pro-Kwa-Zulu Natal, and three community members who are pro-Eastern Cape


The concept of social conflicts

This paper explores the concept of community conflicts and their special attributes in the context of a broader theory of social conflict. Bradshaw maintains that in South Africa, the term “community conflict” is synonymous with public dispute, and that boundary disputes fall into this category (Bradshaw, 2008: 29).

According to Rhoodie (1991: 21), cited in Bradshaw (2008: 16) social conflict mostly takes place where groups of people compete for scarce resources, be these positions of power, attractive land or recognition. Resources can be estimated in terms of money or other tangible measures, but often they are intangible; the demand for recognition or psychological retribution exemplifies intangible values. Intangible resources can be as highly valued as tangible resources (Wallensteen, 2007: 15). Wallesteen (2007: 14) explains that the term “resources” covers all positions that are of interest to the actor.

In an attempt to define conflict, Pruitt and Kim (2004: 7) argue that conflict refers to a perceived divergence of interest; a belief that the parties’ current aspirations are incompatible. Tischler (2011: 20) elaborates on this definition by Pruitt and Kim. He says that society is a system of accommodations among competing interest groups. However, some scholars have decried the lack of conceptual clarity in this definition of conflict. Doucet (1997: 177) maintains that “conflict” is a very fluid, mobile and ambiguous word. It can refer to many things:  a debate or contest; a disagreement; an argument; a dispute or quarrel; a struggle, battle or confrontation; a state of unrest; or turmoil. All of these can be used to characterise situations in different social settings; from the inner emotional or psychological process of the individual, to relationships within or between different social groups (such as families, communities or cultures).

While there is no general theory for social conflict, there are a number of different competing theoretical perspectives drawn from various disciplines or fields such as sociology and psychology, each with its own distinct valuable insights and shortcomings (Dougherty and Pfaltzgrat, 1990:187). Ralf Dahrendorf (1958:170) was harshly critical of the fact that there was no general theory of social conflict. He noted that the approaches made towards a systematic study of social conflict were relatively isolated when compared with other works which focused mainly on social stratification or on structure and function of specific institutions, organisations, and societies.

Dahrendorf (1958:173) suggested that the sociological theory of conflict would do well to confine itself, for the time-being, to an explanation of the friction between the rulers and the ruled in given social structural organisations. Dahrendorf also suggested some requirements for a social conflict theory; such a theory should enable theorists to derive social conflicts from structural arrangements, showing that these conflicts are systematically generated. It should also account both for the multiplicity of forms of conflict and the degree of their intensity (Dahrendorf, 1958:175). Fink (1968:412), in his paper titled Some conceptual difficulties in the theory of social conflict, posited that since theory is the principal means of integrating scientific knowledge, the construction of a general theory of social conflict should be considered a desirable step.

However, other theorists such as Hager and Janowitz have since shown their opposition to a general theory of social conflict. These theorists question both the necessity and desirability of treating several kinds of conflict as a single empirical domain, on the grounds that crucial aspects of each particular kind of conflict are inevitably overlooked by theories of greater generality. The view held by these theorists is supported in this paper, in that boundary demarcation disputes should be treated as a distinct form of conflict. For example, Hager, cited in Fink (1968: 413), argues that the effort to understand religious conflicts in the same framework as ethnic and racial conflicts would fail because of certain fundamental peculiarities of religion and religious groups (Fink, 1968: 413). Fink identified conceptual confusion as one of the obstacles in the construction of a general theory of social conflict. According to him, a fundamental problem is the ambiguity of the term “social conflict” since definitions of this term serve to specify, amongst other things, the domain of the theory. Central to this confusion is the question of whether to assign a broad or narrow definition to the term “conflict”. This point can be illustrated by the contrasting positions adopted by various theorists: Dahrendorf advocated a broader definition of conflict while Mack and Snyder wanted a narrow definition.

The aim of developing a general theory of social conflict can be pursued only if the broadest possible working definition of social conflict is adopted (Fink, 1968: 455). Such a broad definition should include within the domain of the theory all phenomena that have been considered seriously as instances of social conflict, as well as many phenomena which are given other names. Therefore, social conflict should be defined as any social situation or process in which two or more social entities are linked by at least one form of antagonistic psychological relationship or at least one form of antagonistic interaction (Fink, 1968: 456).

O’Connel (in Schmidt and Kochan, 1972: 359) states that definitions of conflict have been either ignored or published in exceedingly vague terms. He argues that such vagueness makes comparisons of different research difficult. Schmidt and Kochan (1972: 360) further state that much of the literature fails to distinguish between conflict and its antecedent conditions. In expatiating in this view, they cite Pody (1967) who suggested that the term “conflict” has been used differently in the literature at various times. They describe four instances of such use: first, to describe antecedent conditions (for example scarcity of resources, policy differences, etc.) of conflict behaviour; second, the affective states (for example, stress, tension, hostility, anxiety, etc.) of the individuals involved; third, the cognitive states of individuals (that is, their perception or awareness of conflict situations); and fourth, conflict behaviour ranging from positive resistance to overt aggression (Schmidt and Kochan, 1972: 360).

Dahrendorf (1959) agrees with Fink on the general theory of conflict and argues that a broad definition of conflict is appropriate for use at varying levels of analysis. Dahrendorf uses the term “conflict” to refer to contests, competitions, disputes and tensions as well as manifest clashes between social forces. According to him, all relationships between sets of individuals that involve an incompatible difference of objective (that is, in its most general form), a desire on the part of both contestants to obtain what is available only to one, or only in part are, in this sense, relations of social conflict.

The concept of Community conflicts

According to Kreps and Wenger (1973: 158), social conflict as a general concept has received extensive theoretical treatment and analysis in the social sciences; however, the subject of community conflict has received considerably less attention. In South Africa, according to Bradshaw (2008: 29), community conflict is largely synonymous with public dispute, a term that incorporates the wide range of conflict that takes place in the public realm.

According to Kreps and Wenger, (1973, 159) a community is a combination of social units and systems that perform major social functions in a specific locality. These social functions involves the division of labour and organisation of social activities that enables its participants to solve the basic problems of social living. Conflict is an interactional process and the potential for conflict exists in all social encounters. It is for this reason that Kreps and Wenger (1973: 159) define conflict as a social process in which overt opposition occurs between two or more interacting units of social organisation because of an event (specific incident or occurrence) that is related to the vested interest of these social units. Implicit in this definition is the notion that conflict varies in magnitude and can range from mere disagreement to open antagonism which manifests as violence. They therefore define community conflict as a process in which opposition occurs because of an event related to the five basic community functions, namely: production-distribution-consumption, socialization, social control, social participation and mutual support (Kreps and Wenger, 1973: 161-162).

Kreps and Wenger (1973: 169) identified a number of factors that affect the scope of conflict and that can either facilitate or impede conflict within the community. These are: a participative political structure, the degree of pluralism in the power structures, the past history of conflict within the community, the degree of issue publication and the degree of structural integration. The arrangement of these factors within the community will affect the degree or scope of any conflict within that system. Kennedy and Carpenter (1988) consider what constitutes a public dispute. In answering this question, they identify certain attributes of public disputes, which include: A complicated network of interest; an unstable number of parties; varying levels of expertise; different forms of power; a broad range of issues; and strongly held values (Kennedy and Carpenter, 1988). Public disputes are therefore complex because the number of parties involved is not stable, and often there is no clarity on who the actual parties in these conflicts are.

What causes conflicts in society?

Conflict in society has many causes (Bradshaw 2008: 18). Conflicts may be caused by value differences, clashes of interest, unfulfilled needs, misinformation, past relationships or structural situations or any combination of the above. According to Turner (1975: 434), Dahrendorf and Coser assert that the cause of conflict in a social system ultimately resides in the dissatisfaction of the deprived. Turner says that the difference between Dahrendorf and Coser is that Dahrendorf visualises this dissatisfaction in terms of awareness of interest, while Coser’s analysis focuses on the question of legitimacy (Turner, 1975: 434). Coser (1957) believes that the more the deprived members of a system question the legitimacy of the distribution of scarce resources, the more likely they are to initiate conflict. Furthermore, the fewer the channels there are for the deprived to redress grievances over the distribution of scarce resources, the more likely they are to question legitimacy of the distribution.
Marchetti and Tocci (2009: 211), supporting the liberal school of conflict resolution, argue that conflict emerges when human needs are denied and that peace is achieved when the basic human needs of all people are respected. Conflict also emerges because the means through which a particular group seeks to fulfil its needs may mean the negation of those very needs to others (Marchetti and Tocci, 2009: 211).
Value-based conflicts develop because different people hold different religious, political or ideological values. Interest-based conflicts emerge when people’s material requirements are in great demand because there is a limited supply. Needs based conflict is found in the denial of basic human needs (Bradshaw, 2008: 18). Bradshaw illustrates the causes of conflict through the use of a “conflict cube”, explained below.

The Conflict Cube
 Conflict Cube
(Source: Bradshaw, 2008: 20)

The conflict cube illustrates the various causes of conflict and its multi-faceted nature. Horizontally, the cube shows that values, interests and needs are the most important sources of conflict in society and conflicts based on these are extremely difficult to resolve. Vertically, the cube illustrates other sources of conflict in society, namely: structures, data and relationships.

Structural conflict is to be found in social, political and economic structures. Structures designed in a particular era or setting, for a particular set of circumstances may be entirely inappropriate in another era or in a different place but may persist to cause unnecessary conflict. Data based conflict is mainly based on misperception, misunderstanding and/or miscommunication. The distortion in the processing of information can give rise to conflict.

Relationships are also a source of conflict. According to Bradshaw’s conflict cube, current conflicts are caused by past relationships. Where some individuals or groups have historically coerced, or cheated others, this leads to distrust among parties in the present, and so the tensions may be perpetuated, leading to conflict (Bradshaw, 2008: 19).


The importance of understanding conflict dynamics in any conflict situation is two-fold. Firstly, this is to assists in understanding the shape and form that the conflict is taking as it unfolds. Secondly, this assists in understanding and selecting the appropriate time to intervene in a conflict. Scholars such as Anstey (1991) suggest that the best time to intervene in a conflict situation is when the conflict has reached a stage called ‘ripeness’. Therefore, in understanding conflict dynamics helps in identifying the stage when the conflict is ripe. Conflict dynamics are divided into two, namely escalation and de-escalation.


According to Wall and Callister (1995: 516) escalation can be thought of as a process of increased intensity or worsening conflict. This may mean that one of the participants in the conflict is using heavier tactics than before and is putting greater pressure on the other participant, or it may mean that there is an increase in the intensity of a conflict as a whole. Escalation by one party usually leads to escalation by the other and hence the intensification of the conflict as a whole (Pruitt and Kim, 2004: 89).
Doucet (1997: 180) submits that conflict escalation occurs when existing institutionalised mechanisms cannot respond constructively, and the parties in conflict reach open expressions of hostility. A “discourse of violence” develops as political leaders and the press pursue an explicit vilification of one party, increasingly using language of demands, threats, and ultimatums. This may be echoed in every day conversations between people and their leaders and may complicate or modify the primary conflict. In the early stages of escalation, private language may differ in its degree of belligerence from the leader’s public statements. However, the two will gradually converge to articulate a shared perception of the “enemy”. An indication of rapid escalation is when both the language of the leaders and everyday private conversations become extreme (Doucet, 1997: 181).

Leng (2004: 51) maintains that many conflict strategists view escalation as a manageable process that provides state decision-makers with better understandings of the structure of the crisis. Pruitt and Kim (2004: 92) believe that to understand escalation, one must know what processes have occurred within and between the “Party” and the “Other” as their conflict intensifies.

Friedman and Currall (2003: 1326) argue that escalation occurs because when conflict escalates, the situation intensifies in ways that are sometimes exceedingly difficult to undo, especially when aggressive tactics are used by one side and are mirrored by the other side, producing a vicious cycle. Leng (2004: 56) maintains that conflict scientists, who adopt a psychological perspective on escalation, tend to focus on the reinforcing effects of dispute escalation.

Doucet (1997: 181) identifies three dynamics that unfold during escalation. First, the issue at stake in the conflict may change as parties modify their goals; they often increase their initial demands. Secondly, conflicting parties draw in outside parties as allies in support of their cause; they often do this by mobilising a diaspora in order to gain political, financial and moral support. It may also include mobilising overt or covert support from other states and other people. Thirdly, the parties become more prone to acts of violence.

De Dren (2005: 149-50) believes that ego defensiveness contributes to the escalation of conflict. Because individuals have the desire to develop and maintain a positive self-view, they quickly come to see themselves as benevolent and constructive and their counterparts as malevolent and competitive. When the positive self-view is threatened, people tend to become hostile and aggressive. Because conflict and negotiation inherently involve opposition and threat, escalating spirals of increasingly hostile exchange are likely to result.


There are various theories about what leads to a de-escalation of conflict. Doucet (1997: 182) maintains that conflicts de-escalate when a plateau is reached and parties begin to feel uncomfortable with the costly stalemate in which they find themselves. Mixed motives (weariness, duplicity and tactics, as well as a genuine desire to end the destruction) may prompt a respite. According to Rasler (2000: 701) de-escalation occurs when actors question the viability of existing conflict patterns and repertoires of actions and adopt new ways of thinking about their adversaries. Rasler (2000: 703) believes that some level of reciprocity is essential in bringing about de-escalation. However, she warns that concessions made by one side without appropriate responses from the other cannot be expected to contribute to a de-escalatory process. Cooperation from one’s adversary reinforces the expectations about future cooperation and strengthens the shift toward moderation (Rasler, 2000: 703). Rasler further believes that protracted conflicts de-escalate when adversaries assume new interpretations, understandings and expectations of their opponents (Rasler, 2000: 700). Pruitt and Kim (2004: 121) maintain that the use of conflict models, age, gender and social bonds can be factors in the de-escalation of conflict.


In South Africa, most cases of boundary grievances have to do with community development. In the case of the Moretele and Madibeng Municipalities, eight villages were divided between these two municipalities. The villagers lodged a grievance and demanded that the municipal boundaries be revised. Their reasons for this were needs related. They wanted easy access to fresh water. They argued that the closest fresh water supply within the municipal area was fifteen kilometres away; if they were incorporated into the Moretele Municipality, the water supply would be only four kilometres away. They also argued that the new boundary demarcation would unite the villages in Madibeng with their traditional leaders and fellow communities situated in Moretele (Nxumalo and Whittal, 2013: 334).

In Bushbuckridge, tens of millions of Rand in infrastructure were destroyed by disputants in the boundary demarcation between Limpopo and Mpumalanga (Griggs, 1998). As early as 1993, residents of Bushbuckridge challenged the incorporation of their area into Limpopo Province. In this case, the majority of residents wanted the area to be moved from Limpopo Province and be incorporated into Mpumalanga. Bushbuckridge was divided along North Sotho and Tsonga speaking areas that were placed under the jurisdiction of the former Lebowa (North Sotho) and Gazankulu (Tsoga). Since Bushbuckridge had belonged to the apartheid-era development Region G, incorporating Region G into Limpopo Province meant that Bushbuckridge automatically formed part of Limpopo Province. In rejecting their incorporation into Limpopo Province, the people of Bushbuckridge argued that they were more economically and geographically linked to Mpumalanga than Limpopo Province (Ramutsidela, 2007: 50).
In the Bushbuckridge boundary demarcation dispute some politicians were accused of self-interest when they supported the decision to incorporate Bushbuckridge into Limpopo. At the time it was argued that some ANC members from Bushbuckridge had been elected to top positions in Limpopo and some had been included in the Limpopo Legislature. As a result of this incorporation, they had secured seats in the NCOP and the National Assembly in Cape Town (Ramutsidela, 1998: 296).

The people of Bushbuckridge thought that their lives would be improved if Bushbuckridge were included in Mpumalanga which, according to their perceptions, had greater development potential. They believed they would benefit economically if their area was administered by Mpumalanga (Ramutsindela and Simon, 1999: 487). The Bushbuckridge rejection of incorporation into Limpopo was essentially a campaign founded on the basis of local identity, proximity and convenience (Ramutsindela and Simon, 1999: 498). According to Robertson et al (2010: 260) those who live in particular localities can also develop attachments to places, which can inform understanding of themselves and others and how they are viewed by others. This development and maintenance of a particular social identity within a specific locality can be a result of a complex weaving of internal and external interactions and forces. Therefore, identity can be forged by the locality where one belongs. Asserting that one comes from a particular locality is crucial to how one locates himself or herself both socially and culturally.

The people of Bushbuckridge felt strongly about their local identity with Mpumalanga. They argued that since Bushbuckridge is in the east geographically, they ought to belong to Mpumalanga (Ramutsindela and Simon, 1999: 486).

What appears to be a trend in boundary demarcation disputes in South Africa is the element of a “trade off”. When Matatiele was incorporated into the Eastern Cape from Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN), a town called Mzimkhulu in the Eastern Cape was moved to KZN. Similarly, in 1995, Limpopo was willing to release Bushbuckridge to Mpumalanga, but it demanded that Mpumalanga should transfer Groblersdal and Marble Hall as compensation. The residents of these towns rejected this proposal, because they perceived Limpopo as underdeveloped with no potential for economic growth (Ramutsindela and Simon, 1999: 491).


Presence of violence in boundary disputes

The people who supported the incorporation of Matatiele into KZN marched against the decision to incorporate it into the Eastern Cape four times in 2005. These marches never elicited any response, negative or positive, from the government. However, a march that was organised by a group favouring the incorporation of Matatiele into the Eastern Cape turned violent when a group of people opposed to this decision disrupted the march. Even though this violence was not in a large scale, there was destruction of property. One respondent claimed that their demand for the incorporation of Matatiele into Kwa-Zulu Natal was peaceful, but pursuing peaceful means had cost them dearly because the authorities did not listen to them and their supporters blamed them for not forcing their demands violently. He said:

"Some people, even to this day, blame us for pursuing peaceful means. They keep on pointing us to places like Khutsong which pursued violent means to fight demarcation and won.
Rasler and Thomas submit that boundary disputes start with a disagreement of some sort; the next stage is that the disputants clash repeatedly; then their actions escalate to a series of militarised disputes and rivalry which may or may not develop to war" (Rasler and Thomas, 2006: 149).

History as a factor in boundary disputes

According to one respondent, a historical perspective informed the decision to incorporate Matatiele into the Eastern Cape. This view was confirmed by one of the pro-Eastern Cape respondents. The apartheid government’s seemingly arbitrary demarcation decisions are well documented. Narsiah and Maharaj, writing in their paper titled Borders of Dissent in South Africa: The Bushbuckridge Saga, state the following:

Such politically-engineered spatial units destroyed communities and rendered indigenous populations aliens in their places of birth. The apartheid state created and sharpened the ethnic and linguistic cleavage by spatial inscription. This new geography of apartheid was not accepted passively by the oppressed. They voiced their displeasure against the state’s unilateral geographical strategy.
 (Narsiah and Maharaj, 1999: 51)

One pro-Eastern Cape respondent said:

Our government is being blamed for correcting the wrongs of the past. People must let this government govern.

Scarcity of resources

Both the pro-Eastern Cape and pro-KZN respondents interviewed expressed unhappiness with the poor state of access roads, inaccessibility of clean drinking water, constant unavailability of water in town, unavailability of electricity and high levels of crime. Considering Chiozza and Choi’s definition of the meaning of a territory as a tangible source of economic resources as described earlier (Chiozza and Choi, 2003: 251) it is not surprising that the people of Matatiele were fighting over territory to access resources such as access to clean drinking water and security services.

In explaining the lack of safety and security services in the area, one respondent said:

We are scared here because we get raped in our houses at night. People knock in our houses while we are asleep.

Personal interests are the motivation for a demand to fall into a particular territory

The pro-KZN respondents alleged that the pro-Eastern Cape group was driven by personal interests and that they benefitted from the government in one way or another. In expressing this view, one respondent said:

We were with these people in our marches for the opposition of the incorporation of our town into the Eastern Cape but they changed their tune immediately after assuming positions of power and benefiting from the municipality.

This view is supported by Chiozza and Choi (2003: 25) who believe that people want to live in a certain territory because it means control over important resources or markets even if those commodities or interests are imagined or only have potential.

Identity and culture are central to internal boundary disputes

One respondent believed that the reason the majority of people of Matatiele wanted to be incorporated into KZN was because they belonged to the Ama-Hlubi clan and the kingdom of Ama-Hlubi is in KZN. Therefore, their demand to be incorporated into KZN had to do with being closer to their kingdom.
However, the pro-Eastern Cape respondents also advanced reasons related to culture and identity for Matatiele remaining in the Eastern Cape and that the alternative would adversely affect their right to practice their culture. For instance, they cited that they would not be able to practice circumcision as it is not practised in KZN. One of these respondents said:

If Matatiele falls into KZN we won’t be able to practice ‘ulwaluko’ (circumcision) because this cultural practice is not practiced in that province. The chiefs there won’t allow us to practice it.
Another reason cited by the pro-Eastern Cape respondents for their opposition was that their traditional leaders, in particular kings and chiefs, who were heads of their tribes, and who defined their identity would lose their status because they would not be recognised and would be subject to the authority and power of the Zulu King.

Knight believes that in most boundary disputes, indigenous people will continue to fight for the recognition of their distinctiveness; they want their cultures, language, and social institutions respected and recognised and they want to preserve a separate identity (Knight, 1985: 265).

Inadequate public participation in boundary demarcation decisions

Although there was a public participation exercise that was conducted in the incorporation of Matatiele into the Eastern Cape, this process was fraught with problems. In addition, the people who were interviewed for this paper agree that their views were never taken into account. The respondents stated:
What is the point of listening to the people’s views if you are not going to take them into account?
Another commented:

Public participation in this matter was a sham. It seems government has an obligation to consult but no obligation to implement the will of the people.

According to Nxumalo and Whittal, poor communication between stakeholders and lack of public participation are evident in the municipal demarcation processes. Participation encourages inter-governmental communication to avoid rejection of processes and contributes towards the realisation of democracy on the ground (Nxumalo and Whittal, 2013: 337).

Poor health and education services being central to internal boundary services

The pro-KZN respondents said that they were opposed to incorporation into the Eastern Cape because health and education services had drastically deteriorated in Matatiele. One respondent said:
Even if you can go to our hospital now, there are no medicines. You will be given a Panado which you can buy at the shops.

This respondent explained that when the area was under KZN, the services were of a high standard at both the local clinics and hospital.

On the poor quality of education services, another respondent said that:

Yes, we do have a challenge of school infrastructure in some schools which impacts negatively on teaching and learning but our provincial government is working on these challenges.

One pro-KZN respondent, a teacher in one of the local schools, explained that most schools in the area lacked proper ablution facilities. The schools were also characterised by serious teacher shortages in most instances. All respondents agreed that these problems impacted negatively on teaching and learning. The pro-KZN respondents were of the opinion that KZN would swiftly address these problems.
Johan Galtung, cited in Sandole (2001), asserts that where resources are unevenly distributed, as when income distributions are heavily skewed, literacy and education are unevenly distributed, or medical services exist only for certain groups or districts, violence becomes built into the societal structure.

Boundary demarcation cause an instability in the community

When one respondent was interviewed, he submitted that the boundary demarcation issue had divided the political leadership and ordinary people in the area. This respondent stated:

The municipality is divided on this issue; some councillors and employees are pro-KZN while others are pro-Eastern Cape. We are worried because this thing is compromising service delivery to the communities.

One respondent alleged that the pro-KZN people who were vocal in their stance did not receive municipal services. Both the pro-Eastern Cape and pro-KZN respondents agreed that this boundary dispute had planted seeds of distrust, rivalry and antagonism in the community.
Rasler and Thompson believe that boundary disputes have the potential to divide groups along ethnic, linguistic and cultural lines and according to religious identities (Rasler and Thompson, 2006: 147).


Internal boundary demarcation disputes are a unique form of community conflict that is multi-faced in nature. Due to their nature, these types of disputes are extremely difficult to manage and subsequently to resolve.
The Matatiele boundary demarcation dispute shows that these disputes involve several parties and are characterised by a claim to local/geographical identity, development opportunities and access to resources.
Authors such as Burton (1984: 143) suggest that these kinds of disputes need a special approach in their management and resolution. Burton believes that the traditional methods of conflict resolution such as negotiation and mediation will not work in the resolution of these disputes. He suggests problem solving workshops as an appropriate strategy for the resolution of boundary demarcation disputes.


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