South Africa’s experiment with nationalism
Twenty-eight years after the end of apartheid, you’d think that the country would have moved on and would be closer to building a united, non-racial and non-sexist society.
But as the economy struggles to pick itself up after the Covid-19 pandemic, and the country’s unemployment figures spiral, the cracks are showing.
State institutions are no longer what they used to be and, in most cases, are no longer able to fullfill their role. This has led to the rise of movements such as Operation Dudula and South Africa First, who under the umbrella of “South African nationalism” and anti-immigrant activism are taking matters into their own hands. This reflects the loss of trust in government.
The failure of the state under democracy to create a country where equality thrives and where poverty is just a dim memory, has also given rise to renewed social polarisation – and is possibly a reason why AfriForum felt it safe to launch the Cape Forum.
In a statement, AfriForum – using language reminiscent of what was used under apartheid – explained that the Cape Forum would help with “community self-reliance”. The statement also said that the organisation would allow AfriForum to “extend a hand of friendship to coloured and other Cape communities”. This gave a strong impression of a harking back to what the apartheid government liked to call “separate development”.
In this week’s Friday Briefing, News24’s columnist and analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela analyses how the state’s failure to perform its basic duties – such as enforcing the law and creating an environment for all to realise their potential – has led to citizens seeking all kinds of platforms of refuge to organise themselves and survive outside state influence.
Sean Jacobs, an associate professor at the Julien J Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs at The New School in New York, explores how it is not about building power for the new organisations and parties, but rather about influencing policy and forcing the ANC rightward.
Finally, author and associate professor at Nelson Mandela University, Christi van der Westhuizen, writes that AfriForum’s bid to mobilise Cape coloureds can be seen as an attempt by them to impose its neo-nationalist vision on coloured people while also getting a slice of the new action in coloured politics.
Hope you enjoy the read before your weekend.
Our constitutional project can stall if narrow nationalist groups become the prominent vehicle through which people feel they can advance their rights. Loyalty to the constitutional project of building a united, non-racial and non-sexist society should be the main priority over other group considerations based on cultural, ethnic and racial ties, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
The rise of groups like the Cape Forum and Operation Dudula are part of a concerning trend in South African politics, which is becoming partialised by identity politics where parties emerge to cater to niche identities based on racial or ethnic identities, writes Sean Jacobs.
Nationalism has paid off for successive ruling groups, notably the Afrikaner nationalists and, currently, the African nationalists. Culture was central to Afrikaner nationalism, and AfriForum’s politics and the formation of the Cape Forum can be seen as neo-nationalist remnants of this, writes Christi van der Westhuizen.
To receive the Friday Briefing, sign up for the newsletter here.
*Want to share your views on this week’s Friday Briefing? Send your letter or article to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and town or province. You are welcome to also send a profile picture. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers’ submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.