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Tribal resurgence?

22 May 2013, 22:53

POLITICAL ADVERTURISM OR REAL THREAT OF TRIBAL RESURGENCE?

The growing voices that scream tribalism resurgence, others decrying 'Indian hegemony' and the concept of 'zulufication' of the society are all coming back like an avalanche nowadays. When the University of KwaZulu-Natal  adopted and announced its language policy decision similar screams of 'zulu hegemony' were heard reverberating in the media to a point that a nation discussion was held. I asked myself: what are we facing here?

"The common fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man.” From its inception African nationalism in South Africa eschewed ethnicity, racism and tribal particularism in favour of a non-racial national agenda expressed in the preamble of the Freedom Charter as “South Africa belongs to all who live in it...” Rev ZK Mahabane

The process of homogenisation grew rapidly with time, picking up speed particularly during and after World War II when millions of Africans from the rural areas were called forth to man industry. As the members of this urbanising African community restructured and reconstituted their identities to take account of the new roles that living and working in a modern economy imposed on them, so too have the significance of particular language communities and ethnic backgrounds assumed diminished importance in the manner in which they conducted their lives.

Similarly; the euphoria of the 1994 breakthrough cemented that homogenised identity of South Africans. This was mainly because of our 'common understanding' of the CST project, in the first instance. Secondly, we had all shared the desire to be free from the shackles of apartheid. And lastly; the hope of a better life ran as a common thread in all of us.

However; it worth remembering that the 1994 breakthrough was a result of concessions in order to stabilise our transition. Even before this, the traditions of the ANC movements - which ' eschewed ethnicity, racism and tribal particularism' - weighed heavily on us all to make these concessions in the interest of the struggle. Now; almost 20 years later the tracks are beginning to be apparent.

Racial harmony is at its lowest best. Tribalism has been able to rear its ugly head once again. Whether this espouses itself when progress policy decisions are being made - as in the case of UKZN - or a leader is to be elected; it has become common that we raise the tribal card high. Slogans such as '100% Zulu' have permeated freely to a point that they are used to pin point to the 'zulufication project'. Every robot, at least in Johannesburg, one would find people selling stickers entrenching a particular tribal line.

Even recently; the DA's Helen Zille has used it to wage an anti-Zuma campaign ("We will challenge the President if he appoints a Head of Public Prosecutions from KZN" - SABC Radio News).

Now; over the years we have pretended that South Africans share a common patriotism ('a rainbow nation') and a common vision of the future of society. However; the recent events, utterances and nuances have shown that ours is still a highly racialised (and tribalised) society and racism is being used to amplify and sharpen ethnic attitudes. Less stable and consequently more erratic, is the ethnic consciousness presently found among the Coloured and Indian communities.

We must not forget that Verwoerd theorised his strategy in terms of apartheid ideology, arguing that South Africa was NOT a common society. He argued that a historical accident had resulted in the artificial forcing together of members of a number of discrete nations. Thirteen of these were the “bantu nations,” the others were the Afrikaaners, the Brits, the Coloureds and Namas, and the Asians. By his account, each of these “nations” was striving for independence, which apartheid was designed to facilitate, by creating the space for each to “develop along its own lines. “

Ethnicity, specifically that associated with the “homelands” and “bantustan” politics, quite clearly had nothing to do with “blood,” “the ancestors, “the soil” and other attributes which ethnicists regularly invoke. It does however have everything to do with white racist policies to thwart the aspirations of our people for freedom, democracy and equality.

Cde Pallo Jordan (The National Question in Post 1994 South Africa, 1997) argued that 'solving the national question requires that in the first instance we pose the correct questions and not buy into the myths of ethnic and racist ideologues'. As in all instances, the national question in South Africa is underpinned by the material realities the development of capitalism in a colonial setting and the institutions created to sustain those productive relations.'

He further warns that 'ethnic mobilization, in its various guises however still poses a serious problem and represents the gravest single threat of destabilization and subversion in our new democracy'. The anti-indian charlatans (such as the Mazibuye African Forum) are a tap roots of ethnicity and political adventurism.

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