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The name Transkei translates roughly as “the area beyond the Kei”. Although its borders were once more rigidly defined, today the Transkei generally refers to the stretch of coastline between the Great Kei River (located just north of East London) and the Umtamvuna River, which marks the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. 

The Transkei area has a long and convoluted history defined by political struggle. It is the ancestral home of the Xhosa people, an agrarian ethnic group established in the area long before the arrival of settlers from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, first the Dutch and then the British realized the agricultural potential of the fertile Transkei, and from the 1700s onwards conflict over land flared up regularly between the colonial settlers and the cattle-grazing Xhosa tribes.


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