The building of a nation

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pretoria – President Jacob Zuma says South Africa has made good progress in building social cohesion and promoting a new single national identity, although work is still continuing in this regard.

“The biggest barrier to further increasing social cohesion is the remaining inequality in society which needs to be attended to further. Going forward, we should commit to working together further, to implement the National Development Plan to deal with remaining challenges and take our country forward,” said the President.

He was speaking at the release of the 20 Year Review: South Africa 1994 to 2014 in Pretoria on Tuesday.

According to the review, when the democratic government was voted into power in 1994, it inherited a divided nation, with high poverty levels, inequalities, discriminatory practices and inequitable distribution of income.

The inequalities that persist today have largely been attributed to apartheid policies limiting access to quality education and formal labour market participation, which served to keep people trapped in poverty.

Opportunities for black people to secure management positions or become owners of companies were minimal. Black people were denied access to clean water,sanitation, electricity and safe transport.

Democratic South Africa also inherited a racially differentiated education system, with 19 different departments of education, each maintaining different standards and administrating its own examinations.


The government’s socio-economic policy framework – the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) says the nation-building project will be an all-encompassing project that aims at economic, political and social transformation.

Central to the crisis in the country are the massive divisions and inequalities left behind by apartheid and nation-building is the basis on which to build a South Africa that can support the development of the Southern African region.

Nation-building is also the basis on which to ensure that the country takes up an effective role within the world community.

South Africa’s nation-building project includes forming a common identity, while recognising and respecting diverse ethnic, racial and other groupings. It involves multiculturalism, which recognises the cultural rights of ethnic and other minorities.

In building a new nation, the country chose to follow a process of reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC recorded and made public the details of a very painful past.

The process of publicly acknowledging and confronting these details was a very necessary part of the process of healing the historic wounds.

The TRC helped ease South Africa into the reconstruction and nation-building process and facilitated a smooth transition from apartheid rule to democracy.

The first democratic elections, which were held peacefully and successfully in 1994, also made an important contribution to social cohesion and building a new national identity.

Mandela key of new national identity

The late former President Nelson Mandela, represented a leader acceptable to almost all groups in society and he was deeply respected across racial and class boundaries. In this regard, President Mandela was himself a key part of the new national identity.

By 1996, the foundations on which to build a new nation were in place and apartheid laws had been repealed.

South Africa had a firmly established national territory, a new Constitution and new national symbols, including a flag, a national anthem and a coat of arms, all of which played a key role in the creation of an overarching national identity.

In a country that values its diversity, these symbols play a stronger role in forging an overarching national identity than in a country with a single cultural, religious or ethnic identity.

Forming the Constitution

The Constitution is based on a vision of a South Africa built on a culture of reverence for human rights and an identity founded on the values of non-sexism, non-racialism and equality. It aimed to build an overarching national identity through common citizenship and equality before the law.

Over the past 20 years, the state has been transformed to be in line with the constitutional imperatives of a non-racial, non-sexist, equitable and democratic South Africa.

A fundamental right recognised in the Constitution is that of the mother tongue. Instead of just Afrikaans and English, the country now recognises 11 official languages. Government has also put in place policy and legislation to promote and develop these languages to ensure people continue to be provided the opportunity to communicate in their language of choice.

A common voter’s roll was put in place for the first time in April 1999. This was an important step for the Nation-building Project because it symbolised equality before the law as envisaged by the Constitution.

Government has transformed the arts sector to be more inclusive and to embrace the country’s diverse arts, culture and heritage.

Since 1994, a range of new heritage sites and legacy projects have been completed, including the Freedom Park complex, which is linked to the adjacent Voortreker Monument, the Chief Albert Luthuli Museum in KwaZulu-Natal, the Robben Island Museum and most recently, the Nelson Mandela Statue at the Union Buildings.


Apartheid South Africa was subjected to international sporting sanctions which isolated the country and its white athletes from international competition. In contrast, since 1994, sport has been a unifying force in South Africa. A dedicated focus was placed on transforming this sector to increase and ensure equitable access to sporting opportunities.

South Africa has also successfully hosted a number of key international sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 1996 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the 2013 Afcon and the 2014 CHAN tournaments.   

These events strengthened the glue that keeps this country together by fostering an overarching national identity as well as a spirit of camaraderie. They also contributed significantly towards developing South Africa as a tourist destination.

Way forward

“While race relations have improved since the apartheid years, there is still much room for overcoming stereotypes and increasing understanding, trust and respect between racial and ethnic groups,” notes the Review.

Since 1994, South Africa has made great strides in transforming education, health, skills and social welfare.

Continuing efforts to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality through the types of measures are likely to result in improve social cohesion over

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