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Katarzyna Utrata, Kolegium MISH, Uniwersytet Warszawski 2003 03 15, Warsaw University Conference celebrating 'The tenth anniversary of the abolition of apartheid regime in the Republic of South Africa'


  2. There are always competing configurations of what constitutes national identity in nation states. Invariably civic and ethnic nationalisms have been used to mobilise people behind a vision of the 'nation'. Civic nationalism fosters loyalty to a political community, usually the nation-state, whereas ethnic nationalism emphasises the common descent or affinities of people with respect to language and religion. The former is tolerant and inclusive, whilst the latter is exclusive and often discriminates against outsiders. Civic nationalism propounds an allegiance to political institutions (viz. the constitution and democracy) and principles (viz. common citizenship rights and obligations) rather than a community. The discourse of ethnic nationalism, on the other hand, emphasises a sense of shared history and common destiny.


  4. During the apartheid regime the national identity of South Africans was based on ethnic nationalism. The construction of a white South African identity was predicated on the control of the apparatus of state and privileged access to resources by the white minority. This white minority consisted of two main ethnic groups of European origin (English and Afrikaans), both of whom defined themselves primarily in contradistinction to the 'other', the indigenous population. But they also distinguished themselves from each other through adopting a different standpoint to the 'other' . The narrative of 'whiteness' which informed the construction of white identity meant that race became the most important social category in South Africa.

    The system of apartheid segregation has not only restricted the civil rights to the white minority, but it also spread throughout all of the sectors of social life. It divided people at work, in public transport, in schools, in hospitals or even in churches. In that period there were more than 300 legal acts that regulated and legitimised the ideology of the racial segregation. Besides the official apartheid there were thousands of small, everyday acts of discrimination . One could see the boards with 'slegs vir blanke' ('for whites only'), in the cinemas, theatres, parks etc.

    In the apartheid era successive Nationalist governments promoted an exclusive Afrikaner ethnic nationalism, as well as a broader white nationalism. This had the effect of collapsing individual ethnicities into white and black, 'us' and 'them'. This promoting of racial consciousness over other significant cultural markers was clearly a narrowly-defined form of nation building.

    Even during apartheid's reform phase, a divide-and-rule strategy sought to consolidate white hegemony, co- opt the 'Coloureds' and Indians and perpetuate differences and divisions amongst the African population.

    Apartheid effectively created two nations; one superior, the other inferior; one white, the other black. South Africa became two political communities in a single national territory.


  6. Bearing in mind the above facts, that show the unquestionable injustice of the apartheid system, it must be obvious that nearly the whole world expected a civil war in South Africa in 1994 when the time was ripe for the changes. On April 14, nearly ten years ago, it seemed likely that South Africa would have significant election violence but it did not happen. Surprisingly to everyone there was a miraculous transition to democracy instead.

    Nevertheless the attainment of national democracy was not the end of the struggle over the human values. Since 1994 South Africa has been involved in a project of building a new nation, redefining the group identity in the way that would create a civil society able to face the challenges of democracy.

    As Nelson Mandela said, building a new nation is the most important task that lays now ahead of South Africans because ' the divisions of the past, racial in character, have to be bridged and healed (...) to be successful, to prosper and grow, South Africans have to be able to work together as one, whatever the differences.'


  8. There are four major racial groups, stemming from at least 3 continents, in the Republic of South Africa that lived separately during the apartheid regime. Due to the Census done by Statistics South Africa in 2001 more than three quarters of the population is constituted by the black Africans who were the most underprivileged group in the apartheid regime, whereas white race - the most beneficial group of the past - comprises only 9.6 % of the population. 8.9% of the population is made up of coloured people and 2.5% of South African citizens are Asians. That four racial groups speak at least 11 major languages.

    If one realises this diversity of people living in one country as well as the impact of the years of social injustice, it must be clear that the task of building a new, democratic nation based on equity, tolerance and mutual respect is very hard.

    There was a need for an idea that would help constitute the society of equal chances no matter the race; the need for the nation myth that would prevent civil war and violent, bloody fight for the revenge of those who were discriminated in the past.

    The Republic of South Africa being 'a state comprised of people with different origins and visions of national self- determination cannot mobilise the myth of common ancestry that inspired nationalism in Europe for wars of aggression when people readily sacrificed their lives for a humiliated "fatherland" or "motherland".'

    South Africa needed a myth that could unite all citizens of the country, no matter the differences, creating a national identity that is essential for successful democratic consolidation. The myth that could create a civic nationalism based on citizenship and equal rights of all residents. The myth that could foster an ability to be proud of belonging to a common state in which citizens actively practise their civil rights in a democratic culture with equal opportunities. The ability that JĂĽrgen Habermas has called 'constitutional patriotism', to which refers President of the Republic of South Africa Thabo Mbeki talking about the 'New Patriotism'.

    If a country lives by its myths, then the myth of post-apartheid South Africa must be that it had become "the rainbow nation". Coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and fostered by former President Nelson Mandela it was this rich imagery and myth which held a divided country together during the uncertainty of power sharing in the initial years of the new democratic political system. Archbishop Desmond Tutu who is usually credited with coining the phrase 'the rainbow nation' as a cleric, presumably draws this image on the Old Testament story of the flood where the rainbow symbolises God's promise not to pass further judgement on humankind. Perhaps this represents another chance to build a nation from which the evil of apartheid has been removed.

    For Tutu, the image probably also resonates with the symbolism of the rainbow in South African indigenous cultures. For instance, in Xhosa cosmology the rainbow signifies hope and the assurance of a bright future.

    The secondary metaphor of the rainbow with its spectrum of colours suggests that South Africa is a multicultural society. Whether the rainbow has Newton's seven colours or the five of the Nguni (i.e. Xhosa and Zulu) cosmology, the colours are not taken literally to represent particular cultural groups. Indeed, the rainbow nation rhetoric avoids direct reference to colour in the sense of race. Instead, the rainbow's colours are simply said to symbolise the diversity of South Africa's usually unspecified cultural/ethnic/racial groups.

    The rainbow symbolises a range of cultural groups represented by discrete colours and hues which blur into one another; none of which is completely distinct but each is essential to the composition of the entire spectrum. The rainbow is incomplete without any one of the colours, but none of the colours or strands is dominant over the other.The rainbow implies a representation of different cultures that comprise identity of a shared South Africanness.

    The idea of the rainbow nation helps to develop the national identity on the basis of existing racial, ethnic, regional, class and gender identities. It also recognises that people have multiple identities and that these can be reconciled with each other. As Yunus Carrim an ANC MP noticed, 'one can, for example, be Zulu, African, black and South African. There is nothing inherently conflictual in this. The challenge, in fact, is to provide space for people to express their multiple identities in a way that fosters the evolution of a South Africa national identity.'


The myth of the 'rainbow nation' as a pure ideology is not enough to create a society with a common national identity. The common values on which the idea is based have to be implemented.

This approach to nation building is reflected in many institutions created in the New South Africa. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is the highest expression of the values of nation building, and is made to work in practice by Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the many bodies supportive of democratic consolidation. The Constitution is founded on individual as well as collective and group rights. It protects the right to practice culture, religion and to use a language of choice. Eleven languages are elevated to official status, recognising that historically these languages only enjoyed limited use.

Due to the fact that symbolic actions are a critical part of nation building there are many symbols which are used to communicate general beliefs and values, and to help form common ambitions and goals in the South African society. These are for instance the new flag symbolising the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity, the National Coat of Arms with the motto "Unity is strength" as well as the national anthem written in many South African languages.

Many social scientist emphasise that these national symbols together with civic calendar of common national holidays and festivals may foster creating of a common civic culture that would bind all South Africans no matter the ethnicity and language.

Besides the official legal symbols there are also many actions of less formal status that convey the idea of 'the rainbow nation'. That are for instance common national sport teams that show the national solidarity.

A new South African national identity is also being constructed discursively through the media and other forums of public discourse. As public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has apparently assumed some responsibility for communicating the message of national unity. This is epitomised by the repetitive jingle on SABC-TV: "Simunye - We are one". The content of certain radio and television programmes, and even some private sector funded advertisements convey the message of nation building. For instance, South African Breweries who are the chief sponsors of the national soccer team (the Bafana Bafana) have promoted Castle Lager with the slogan "One Beer, One Nation". As cultural carriers, the media have been crucial in disseminating the rhetoric of 'rainbowism'.

As one can see, the metaphor of the 'rainbow nation' has gained a great popularity among all of the sectors of social life in South Africa. It's obvious that crucial social changes need time but I hope that this vision of the nation as a representation of different cultures and of a shared South Africanness will foster these changes, so that the world will once more admire the 'South African miracle'


  1. Baines G. 'The rainbow nation? Identity and nation building in post-apartheid South Africa' Rhodes University 1998

  2. Carrim Yunus "Under an African rainbow" at http://www.idasa.org.za

  3. Eastern Province Herald 29 May 1998

  4. Habib Adam 'Myth of the Rainbow Nation: Prospects for the Consolidation of Democracy in South Africa' Published in African Security Review Vol 5 No 6, 1996

  5. Heribert Adam 'Real patriotism, not shosholoza' at http://www.idasa.org.za

  6. Mandela Nelson The speech during the 'Values, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century Conference' in Kirstenbosch 23rd February 2001

  7. Mc Allister P. "Cultural diversity and public policy in Australia and South Africa - the implications of multiculturalism" African Sociological Review 1-2, 1997.

  8. Miller D. "The Two Faces of Nationalism". Public Lecture, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 1997.

  9. Njabulo Ndebele "The social bases of values for South Africa: prospects & challenges” the paper presented during the 'Values, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century Conference' in Kirstenbosch on 23rd February 2001

  10. Steyn 'New shades of >>whiteness<<. >>White<< identity in the New South Africa' . Paper presented to the Conference on Multicultural Citizenship in the New South Africa, Cape Town, December 1997

wersja do wydruku


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Janusz Krzywicki, 2003 03 15, Warsaw University Conference celebrating 'The tenth anniversary of the abolition of apartheid regime in the Republic of South Africa'

2003 03 15, Warsaw University Conference celebrating 'The tenth anniversary of the abolition of apartheid regime in the Republic of South Africa'

Weronika Kloc, 2003 03 15, Warsaw University Conference celebrating 'The tenth anniversary of the abolition of apartheid regime in the Republic of South Africa'

Jakub Zajączkowski, Instytut Stosunków Międzynarodowych, Uniwersytet Warszawski; 2003 03 15; Warsaw University Conference celebrating 'The tenth anniversary of the abolition of apartheid regime in the Republic of South Africa'

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