The question of ethnicity: Pedi and Ndebele in a Lebowa village

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James, Deborah
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In the South African context, the question of ethnicity is a morally charged and difficult one. This is mainly so, of course, because the enforcement of ethnic separation by the S A Government has been seen to lie at the heart of some of Apartheid’s worst atrocities. The study of ethnic identities, by volkekundiges, for example (see Sharp 1980), has appeared as an unquestioning acceptance - or even an ideological justifying - by academics of this official policy. Because of this, scholars critical of state policy have tended to under emphasise these identities, and to stress instead uniting factors such as a common working-class identity. In recent years, however, a number of studies have singled out for analysis precisely this kind of strong group identification (see for example Clegg 1981; Marks 1986; Erlmann 1987). While these works do acknowledge that the outer parameters within which strong ethnicity emerges have been set by state policy, they are equally concerned to examine the local-level processes through which it develops and is maintained. They also have in common an insistence that these group identities must be understood not in terms of primordial loyalties, but as affiliations established by specific, and recent, historical developments. Pursuing a similar line of argument, I look in this paper at deep-seated ethnic divisions between Pedi and Ndebele in a Lebowa village.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented September, 1988
South Africa. Ethnic relations