Why South Africa is a racial, tribal mess

Greater efforts are needed to create a unified South African identity that does not rely on tribal or racial identities, an academic has said.

“The psychological damage that has been done by decades of apartheid-era segregation laws and systems still seems to run deep in the psyche of many South Africans, who may still subscribe to an ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ mentality,” said Dr Lubna Nadvi, a lecturer in political science and international relations at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

Nadvi was referring to a remark made by a taxi driver during an interview on Tuesday.

The man referred to protests in Tshwane following the ANC’s decision to name Thoko Didiza as its mayoral candidate for the upcoming municipal elections.

“The ANC cannot bring a Zulu person from KwaZulu-Natal to rule Pedis, Xitsongas and TshiVendas. If you are saying that she [Didiza] is from Pretoria, then tell us where in Pretoria she is from,” the unnamed man was quoted as saying.

“She must go back to KZN.”

Nadvi said tribal identity appeared to be linked to the acquisition of political and economic power. Those groups who felt marginalized possibly resented their exclusion.

Nadvi said some South Africans still thought within the categories of racial, ethnic and tribal identities.

There was an increased tendency towards factionalism and forming cabals in the post-apartheid era.

“The contestation over scarce resources needs to also be addressed, as people tend to align themselves to groups where they can access resources and these may often be constructed along tribal lines,” said Nadvi.

Lack of understanding

Cultural expert and founder of the Umsamo African Institute, Velaphi Mkhize, said South Africans formed perceptions about one another based on a lack of understanding of others’ values, traditions, customs, and upbringing.

“For example, there is a perception that white English people are pretentious while Afrikaners are more direct. That Indians are untrustworthy. Zulus are arrogant and violent, while Xhosas think they are intelligent and know it all. Sothos and Tswana people are humble and good-hearted people. This is not necessarily true.”

He said the taxi driver’s comments showed that a lot still needed to be done to ensure people appreciated their differences and learnt from one another.

The justice department was drafting a document that aimed to eradicate racism and intolerance, which he said should have been done in 1994 already.

He said former president Nelson Mandela was a Xhosa, who never said he was fighting for other Xhosas, but for humanity.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was Xhosa, but could not be compared to President Jacob Zuma, because they were raised differently. Zuma always emphasised that he was a shepherd and never went to university and was not an “arrogant Zulu”.

Mkhize said for example polygamy was not a Zulu practice, but an African one.

“We all show that we are Africans in different ways. These perceptions that exist were created by the apartheid government.”

Such perceptions were rife in the corporate sector. They had to be addressed to ensure progress.

“Democracy must be embraced holistically, spiritually and physically. We have only embraced it physically. We are still shackled and haven’t been decolonised,” Mkhize said.

News24

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Why South Africa is a racial, tribal mess