All-embracing nationalism is what we need - Daily Dispatch

18 June 2019 - Given our findings in the Unite the Middle report, it is fair to say that most South Africans subscribe to civic nationalism. Being a South African has little to do with your skin colour, the language you speak, or where your ancestors are from. It has more to do with being tolerant and wanting to work with others in building a successful country.

Marius Roodt

Nationalism is often seen as an exclusionary ideology. It is associated with insularism and people looking inward rather than outward.

But there is more to nationalism than surly locals being wary of Johnny Foreigner.

In fact, there are broadly two types of nationalism – one benign, the other malignant.

The benign version is civic nationalism. This is the kind of nationalism that allows anyone to be a citizen or member of nation without consideration of their ethnic or national origin. In such conditions, people are united by common values or ideals.

The second and more malignant type is race or ethnic nationalism, and has been the foundation of some of the worst ideologies of the 20th century. Here, ethnic or racial origin defines eligibility as a citizen of a country or a member of a nation. Nazism, apartheid, the Interahamwe of Rwanda, and the Marxist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia are all examples of ideologies or groups which grew out of this type of nationalism.

Civic nationalism was in the ascendancy in the second half of the 20th century, but it seems to have suffered something of a setback today.

The United States, for example – which, while not without problems associated with racial conflict – painted itself as a place where anyone could be an American as long as they swore allegiance to the flag and the Constitution. Where you were from or how you looked had little bearing on your claim to being American. This is being challenged with the rise of the populist Donald Trump who, with his support of the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ and harsh rhetoric around immigrants, seems to be focused on moving the US away from civic nationalism to a more race- or ethnic-based form of nationalism.

South Africa is also not immune. In the initial post-apartheid period, this country seemed to have finally broken with the race nationalism of the past and was moving towards being a country where anyone could be a citizen of the ‘Rainbow Nation’. What race you were, what language you spoke, or what deity you worshipped (if indeed you even worshipped a higher being) had little bearing on your claim to being part of the broader South African nation.

However, this is no longer the case. Starting with former President Thabo Mbeki, who first spoke about ‘two nations’ (one white and wealthy, the other poor and black), the rhetoric around who is and who is not a South African is reaching deafening levels.

President Cyril Ramaphosa continuously speaks about ‘our people’, and it is fairly clear that in that context this does not always include all South Africans, especially white South Africans. And then there is Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who clearly do not consider whites and Indians as fellow citizens. On the other side of the political spectrum, self-determination remains a goal for the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), implying that they do not see a future for whites, specifically Afrikaners, in a unitary South Africa.

But the fact is, most South Africans are civic nationalists, rather than race nationalists. New research from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) shows that the vast majority of South Africans believe that for this country to succeed, the various races need each other.

This emerges from the findings of the IRR’s latest Hope report, entitled Unite the Middle. On the main issues of the day, South Africans are broadly in agreement. There is broad consensus – across race groups – that the main issues facing South Africans are poor education, crime and corruption, and unemployment. A very small minority believe that racism is an issue the government needs to regard as a priority.

But the most compelling evidence that South Africans are – in general – civic, rather than race, nationalists, is the finding that nearly 90% believe that the various race groups need each other if the country is to succeed.

Given our findings in the Unite the Middle report, it is fair to say that most South Africans subscribe to civic nationalism. Being a South African has little to do with your skin colour, the language you speak, or where your ancestors are from. It has more to do with being tolerant and wanting to work with others in building a successful country. That is the kind of nationalism South Africa should nurture, and our figures show that it is the kind of nationalism most South Africans endorse.

Marius Roodt is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes economic and political freedom. Stand with the IRR by clicking here or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).   

 

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