– Is the ideal of a South African nation a to be Celebrated one? – We are necessitated to embrace and work for this nationalism –
The ideal of our constitution depicts and challenges us in democratic embrace to be a people that will live together united in diversity. Our cherished history conflated and obscure at times chronicles a path we had trudged that ensembles a hope to rise above decadence and moribund race classification that have kept us enslaved for a epoch too long.
Such denying us to be a nation that proves willing to share a philosophy of being that stubbornly refuse to have us divided and sacrificed on the mundane altars of race, language, ethnicity, class, even tribalism or the new concept of crass materialism.
The ideal of nationalism, defined as “love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it”, is what we have to grapple with, not in a mellisonant manner nor in a toxic acidic forgetfulness that denies our history, but a consciousness that we are joined together to the hip and we have no other place to call home.
These musings led me to read again what other Africans concluded about their nations. One may argue or remonstrate yet we have to deal with their contentions as that which holds sway at least in their understanding and experience.
The Yoruba Leader Obafeni Awolowo in 1947 would say the following on his country as it relates to it being a nation and the ideals of nationalism. “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English”, “Welsh”, or ” French”. The word Nigerian is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not”.
His countryman Abubakar Tafawa Balewa a year later in 1948 would conclude: “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite… Nigerian unity is only a British invention”
Reading these two Nigerians interpret and articulate their conclusive and published views on the nationhood of Nigeria as a fallacy the questions arising is it correct for them to conclude in such unequivocal sense on the subject of deception of a Nigerian Identity or nationhood?
For if we today comfortably accept that Nigeria constitutes one of three leading countries in Africa considered the triangle of hope for an Africa arise in our collective future how do we engage with the views of these fellow Africans?.
Yet without advancing an opinion in the naked sense of right or wrong on these views it leaves me sobered to think that we the last country to go free in Africa aspires to a nationhood when those before have almost resigned themselves to a state of non-nationhood as depicted by these two African brothers.
When I thought it was only a Nigerian assumption and therefore easily dismissible I have to grapple with the words of Ferhat Abbas who in 1936, summed up his views of an Algerian Nationalism in the following way “if I had discovered an Algerian nation, I would be a nationalist and I would not blush for it as though it were a crime. Men who die for a patriotic ideal are daily honoured and regarded. My life is worth no more than theirs. Yet I will not die for the Algerian homeland, because such homeland does not exist. I have not found it. I have questioned history, I have asked the living and the dead, I have visited the cemeteries; no one has told me of it….One does not build on the wind”
These thoughts expressed have kept me immured in asking is the ideal of a South African nationhood not perhaps utopia or a definite possibility? Are we to conclude that if the oldest “nations” in African freedom, struggle with the conceptuality of such, will the youngest in freedom go pass grappling with it and consummate this nationhood in which we all are clothed with a sense of nationalism.
Or is Awolowo correct that as in the case of Nigeria, South Africa is just a designated place, of geographical description, there are no true South Africans, but is only a distinctive appellation to distinguish people who are diversely wrought to live in the confines of the Borders defined as a South Africa? Should we take Ferhat Abbas the political activist and writer serious when he melancholically retorts “if I had discovered an Algerian nation, I would be a nationalist….. Yet I will not die for the Algerian homeland because such a homeland does not exist, I have not found it”? Should we ask what is a South African nationalism that would prove people willing to die for such?
When I ask this here I am deliberately drawing a distinction between the liberation struggle against Apartheid, which saw a people fight for such freedom from oppression constructed on the false axis of difference magnum, for it seems that the freedom attained has left us in a cul-de-sac of indifference where we today may doubt if we once again will rise to protect such this time in the bond of nationhood where nationalism is the premise?
In fact asking these question spirals out to an even bigger question, can we ask of Mother-Africa to have such African nationalism and share such nationalistic passion when her very proverbial internal organs and limbs (countries in Africa) struggle to define the very essence of this nationhood in the confines of their fluctuating borders. For our very geographical boundaries were described as terra incognita informed by straight lines on the map, less conscious of a collage of traditional monarchies, chiefdoms and other African societies that existed on the ground.
What makes for a nation? What informs a sense of national pride? What are our core values that must violently militate against any attack of such nationalism? Is it strictly confined to our periodic sport events constricted to such arenas or should this not be the very fibre of our society where we live, breathe and let live.
Is nationalism even a welcomed concept in our post apartheid experience? If it is not why – equally if it is why? It is out of this very quest that Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Mphilo Tutu argued for a Rainbow Nation of identity, we may not agree with it, but we must respect the quest.
I dare challenge Ferhat Abbas and say.. “yes today in South Africa there are those who have found such South African homeland, there are those who researched history, and the graves of Khoi-San warriors of the first freedom quest, there are those who scaled the Matoppo Hills, and came back with a conviction such homeland and nation exist and therefore necessitates a willingness to prove sardonic the opposite of such hopelessness, for such nationalism courses through our blood. Yes such from crenellated spaces unequivocally argues we are willing to die for this nation.
I am compelled to say to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as diverse as our religious beliefs may depict, as contoured in dissent our cultures may protest, as historically in diasporic expression our backgrounds may contend, there is a truculence on our part to stymie a pervasive non- willingness to unite. That we in a mother instinct would defy the challenge against our nationhood.
I wish I could conclude and say to Abbas, I have found in the South Land such homeland, that confirms our building of this democracy is not a building on the wind, building blocks into Africa’s national restoration, no matter what the cost. For the obligation to be a nation is not an ideal but a reality one is willing to work for and if needs be to die for, for we refuse the be constrained even shackled by our diversities we have found a unity in our diversity that keeps us hopeful, inspired and intoxicated with a nationalism that says we are who we are united in our diversity.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
This publication appears Courtesy of “Tradewinds are Blowing” Political Musings and Analysis