Ethnic identity in post-apartheid South Africa: a case study of southern Ndebele identity in the Kwamhlanga region in Mpumalanga province

Ndlovu, Sifiso
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This thesis examines the inter-relationship between Southern Ndebele ethnic identity and the construction of a new national identity in post-apartheid South Africa as framed in terms of an inclusive approach. The articulation between Southern Ndebele identity and the idea of the nation was analysed through the case study of the culturally heterogeneous KwaMhlanga locale. In understanding the expression of Southern Ndebele identity as it manifests itself in the KwaMhlanga region in the context of the making of national identity, the thesis argues that there are interactions between these two identities ( ethnic and national identity). The study shows how a sense of belonging to Southern Ndebele identity has been shaped by various changing power dynamics of internal and external factors in ways that allows one to understand how the production of national identity impact on the expression of belonging to Ndebele ethnic identity. The analysis is framed on the premise that like most collective identities, Southern Ndebele identity has been malleable, fluid, negotiable, complex, shifting and contested but it centrally argues that Southern Ndebele identity crystallises around certain key markers. These key markers reveal that there are moments when expressions of belonging to ethnic identity and national identity are profoundly connected and happen simultaneously. Through triangulation of archival research, observation and tracking of political-cultural activities in the KwaMhlanga region for four years and in-depth interviews, the thesis focused on the politics of the making of the KwaNdebele homeland, material culture, heritage and initiation as some of the primary aspects in understanding the production of Southern Ndebele identity historically and in relation to South African national identity. The thesis shows that even if the relationship between expression of Ndebele identity and national identity is mutually constitutive, it is not a static one. The study demonstrates and thus foregrounds the argument that the relationship is a complex one wherein there are shifts which indicate that the expression of belonging to Ndebele identity and national identity sometimes operate independently but never completely isolated in a fluid continuum as it manifests itself in the K waMhlanga region. One of the key findings is that even if K waMhlanga is a culturally mixed area, a level of an expression of distinctive particularism of Southern Ndebele identity has been maintained-albeit with key dynamics like gender, generation and class playing themselves out as they relate to diverse identities which are acknowledged as some of the foundational constitutive elements of post-apartheid South African national identity. In making a unique contribution to wide-ranging scholarship on ethnicity and the construction of national identity in South Africa, the study highlights the intricately balanced dialectical relationship between the sense of belonging to ethnic identities and the production of national identity as one of the entry points in nuancing our understanding of politics of identity in culturally diverse states.
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Political Studies) degree to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, 2017