As the holy grail of soccer – the Fifa world cup – draws even closer many people are positing that the tournament will unite the racially divided citizens of the republic. Perhaps the month long spectacle will prove many sceptics wrong and leave the mass singing from the same page of national identity. But the rugby and cricket world cups of 1995 and 2003 respectively have demonstrated that even influential and well followed sporting codes can only do so much in the grander scheme of construction of a solid national identity especially for a nation as polarized and complex as our own.
What constitutes national identity in post 1994 South Africa and how that identity is arrived at must be answered clearly? A country like the United State of America’s national identity may be summed up as the attainment of the American Dream, which entails things such as the ‘pursuit’ of freedom and self enrichment amongst many others. Beyond the weak idea of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ what can be said to be the national identity of the country? As it is many people can not, whether by choice or otherwise, sing the whole National Anthem, let alone understand what it means. One of the ingredients of a reputable national identity is a national anthem. The debate about whether or not the National Anthem – Nkosi Sikelela i Afrika – should be changed has been circumvented for the greater reconciliatory good. But at what cost? When the anthem was written it was meant to be a temporary political measure to appease the negotiated settlement that led to the 1994 general elections. The opening stanza of the anthem has a heavy Africanist tone – not that such a tone is a crime. In fact, it is understandable why it would have such an Africanist flavour because when the song was adopted by the ANC the winds of African nationalism were weeping strongly across Africa. In truth little is clearly said about South Africa in the whole anthem except for the latter part. If a new anthem was to be written, it would have to be historically consistent and be futuristic in its disposition because we do not want to be changing anthems everytime a different political party assumes office.
The commemoration\celebration of national epochs must also be scrutinized in order to dispel any ambiguity that may occur if clarity is not sought and effected. In April, which is regarded as Freedom Month, the country will commemorate\celebrate 16 years of constitutional democracy and it was in the same month a hundred years ago that Transvaal, Orange Free State, Natal and the Cape Colony became known as the Union of South Africa, hence the Union Buildings in Pretoria\Tshwane. Are the previously oppressed expected to find significance in centenary of the Union, bearing in mind that they were second class citizens for 84 of the 100 years? The blacks (Africans, Indians and coloured) may argue that the forging of the Union in 1910 was an illegitimate political act and does not deserve official recognition. But since President J.G Zuma made mention of the commemoration of it in his State of the Nation address, does it mean that is shall receive official recognition and if so, is it appropriate conduct on the part of the presidency? The 16th of December is another ‘headache’ as far as national commemoration\celebration is concerned. To date the day, which in democratic South Africa is known as Day of Reconciliation, was previously known as follows: Dingane’s Day, Day of the Covenant and Day of the Vow and all of this was in the 20th century. The Zulus, who went to battle with the Afrikaner led by King Dingane see the day in their own way and the Afrikaner view as a day on which they defeated, albeit temporarily, the Zulus. So whose meaning should take centre stage? A reconciliation, perhaps? In the townships the day has a totally different meaning which includes heavy drinking especially from many youths.
A further case of mismanagement of an effort at creating a national identity has to be the hijacking of September 24,Heritage Day, and it being subsequently branded ‘national braai’ by regressive citizens, particularly whites in partnership with many corporations of commerce. Why did they have to have their ‘braai day’ on an already designated national holiday, if it’s an attempt at ridiculing and disregarding any bona fide act of national cohesion? Heritage Day offers us an opportunity to learn more about the various cultures that make up the face of South Africa and it gives a greater spotlight on cultures that are largely not well represented such as the Khoi, San and the Tshonga. Braai meat isn’t unique to South Africa and if it is part of some people’s cultures in South Africa, it should be under that particular culture’s umbrella and not try to over shadow Heritage Day.
The street names and monuments that are constructed must say something about the country’s people as a whole. How we arrive at the names and designs of the monuments must be subject to thoroughly thought out ways that are not in conflict with the laws of the land. The ‘Rainbow National’ ideals must be given clarity if they are to continue saying something about South Africans and the economic aspect of the nation must transform in order for a more representative identity to take root because if that is left unattended to then we will never have national cohesion beyond the pretence of sporting events that last a month or two after the event has taken place.