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Reshaping Post-Apartheid South Africa

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South Africa, a nation once deeply divided by apartheid, is now trying to mend its wounds by uniting under the banners of cosmopolitanism and nationalism. South Africa’s vital interest lies in the need to strengthen its national identity whilst recognizing its role in contributing to the cosmopolitan ideal of Ubuntu, specifically on the African continent. Ubuntu is a traditional isiZulu phrase which translates to “I am because you are” (5) and is centered on fostering collective growth in a community. This paper primarily focuses on the development of post-apartheid South Africa. It should be noted that the social and political structures currently in place have been influenced by both pre-colonial and colonial history. Henceforth, this paper will examine the extent to which hosting international sporting events such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup fostered nationalism. Contrastingly, this paper will evaluate the xenophobic attacks on African immigrants and their impact on cosmopolitanism. Finally, this paper will discuss practical strategies to strike a balance between shaping a South African identity whilst being more inclusive of foreign nationals.

Post-apartheid leaders use major sporting events to shape nationalism. South Africa has played host to many international sporting events across sporting codes namely the: 1995 Rugby World Cup, 1996 African Nations Cup, 2003 Cricket World Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup (6). Nelson Mandela recognized the important role that sport had in tearing down the racial barriers imposed by apartheid and to unite a once divided people, to fulfill the vision of a rainbow nation. Hence, he symbolically supported the springbok national rugby team at the 1995 Rugby World Cup finals by handing over the trophy to the team after defeating New Zealand. This was important he allowed the white minority to hold onto the Springbok emblem which informed part of their identity, regardless of its apartheid connotations. As a result, he was able to win over the support of the white minority who were skeptical of a democratic nation and reinforced the idea of an inclusive rainbow nation (2).

South Africa hosting the 2010 FIFA world cup was not only an opportunity to showcase her diverse cultures but also to represent the African continent worldwide. Nationalists argue that the branding of nationalism that occurs during sporting events is not authentic. Zola Moseko observes that ‘A lot of whites have two flags on their cars, a South African flag and a European one” (7). This observation sheds light on a problem white South Africans faced when identifying as South African which is contrary to the short term nationalism sparked by the Rugby World Cup. Dale Mckinley reaffirms Moseko’s argument and describes the feelings associated with the World Cup as ‘feel-good nationalism’. He further argues that the World Cup failed in being a vehicle for economic, social and political development that would benefit everyone, including the poor. Therefore, we can gather than Nationalism is more than just a feeling, it can also be expressed by actions to develop one’s community. Achille Mbembe adds a third layer to strengthen nationalism by adding that sustainable nationalism can be achieved through actions such as the de-racialization of cities and the promotion of cultures of conviviality through acts like changing street names. Thus, true nationalism in South Africa can be achieved deracializing current systems to create a society that embraces diversity and tolerance.

Cosmopolitans argue that hosting the World Cup was not just a victory to South Africa but the continent as a whole. Joseph Nye posits that “South Africa represented itself as a home of Ubuntu, an epicenter of the African Renaissance, a model of a working, multiracial ‘rainbow’ society and a successful transitional African State”. This is significant as global media is saturated with images portraying African states as unstable due to civil war, famine, corrupt politicians and undeveloped infrastructure. South Africa’s Minister of Sports, Makhenkesi Stofile further elaborated on South Africa’s responsibility to the continent by stating, “The 2010 World Cup is Africa’s time. The entire continent must work together to consolidate the African solidarity around this project – the African showpiece”. The 2010 FIFA World Cup challenged the world to look beyond the headlines and appreciate African states for the diverse cultures they inhabit, the hospitality of the people and, importantly, being capable of successfully hosting an event of that magnitude.

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Despite its efforts to foster Ubuntu, South Africa remains highly prejudice towards foreign nationals, specifically African migrant workers. It is estimated that 3.6 million migrants are living in South Africa with 70% entering from Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho. Historically, migrants have been met with frequent xenophobic attacks with the most dangerous attack occurring in 2008 which left 60 people killed and thousands more displaced. In a study conducted by Dr. Mondli Hlatshwayo, a migrant worker describes his experiences as: “We are not part of unions. We have no rights. We earn starvation wages. We are victimized by the police and some South Africans”. The treatment of foreign nationals places a great strain on diplomatic relations as it tarnishes the image of South Africa as a cosmopolitan state. Nationalists argue that the protection of the South African citizen is a priority as illegal immigrants are accused of crimes such as drug trafficking. From an economic perspective, foreigners are a threat as they are accused of selling fake goods. From a moral standpoint, I believe that South Africa is obliged to assist fellow Africans as they opened their borders to political leaders in exile during apartheid. Furthermore, hyper-nationalism is detrimental as it reinstates the type of separatist thinking enforced by the apartheid government and prevents South Africa from assimilating with other African states (8).

I believe that there is no losing side when it comes to nationalism and cosmopolitanism and both have a role to play in both the development of South African and of the African continent. For far too long South Africa has been divided by colonialism and apartheid and by successfully uniting the nation, it serves as an inspiration for other African states to do the same. Makgoba expresses an ideal South African state through Ubuntu as an accommodating principle that transcends race and culture which is not linked to the material world. Through a cosmopolitan lens, he described Ubuntu as being an invisible force that united Africans worldwide and with a form of mutual respect as we share one big heritage.

Two main strategies that can be utilized include: liberating the minds of the previously marginalized people and adopting the label of an African citizen. Undoing the prejudice thinking instilled by apartheid can be achieved through education. Firstly, previously marginalized South Africans need to recognize themselves as subjects and not citizens, Mkhable and Luthuli stated (3). This form of citizenship education will help them see themselves as responsible to both their country and be open to other people in their community. Through exploring the works of Antjie Krog, author of Begging to be Black, a sense of empathy is invoked as one can learn the experience of a white female of Dutch heritage longing to claim a South African identity. Her work is a form of progressive nationalism which is essential in constructing an inclusive South African identity.

Secondly, one must recognize themselves as an African citizen. Being an African citizen is not restricted to geographical borders is broadened to accommodate similar cultures, languages, and heritage of the continent. The term Afropolitanism has been coined to describe an African sense of Cosmopolitanism. Achille Mbembe interprets Afropolitanism as the ability to “recognize one’s face in that of a foreigner” (4). Additionally, I believe that recognizing oneself as an Afropolitan gives one a responsibility to work towards developing the continent as a whole.

The story of apartheid South Africa was one of a state which robbed its people of the power to be themselves. The leaders of post-apartheid South Africa are erasing the prejudices of the past and rewriting the narrative of a people who are proud of their heritage. Their immediate focus is to strengthen nationalism and their progress can be seen in the ambitious hosting of sports events. However, they struggle to translate the short-lived nationalism into something permanent. On a larger scale, South Africa has been influential in acting as a representative of the African continent. This role has not been completely fulfilled as xenophobic attacks still propagate prejudice. Hence, strategies that the state can employ to fulfill both its vital interest of strengthening identity and its additional responsibility towards developing Africa is facilitated by Ubuntu. These strategies include: liberating the mind of the populace through citizenship education and adopting an African identity. By striking a balance in its nationalist and cosmopolitan interests, the country can continue to strive towards being a powerful state.


  1. Coundouriotis, Eleni. ‘Rethinking Cosmopolitanism in Nadine Gordimer’s ‘The Conservationist’.’ College Literature 33, no. 3 (2006): 1-28.
  2. Edwards, Piers. “For Nelson Mandela, Sports Were Major Weapon against Racism.” CNN, 6 Dec. 2013,
  3. Enslin, Penny, and Kai Horsthemke. ‘Can Ubuntu Provide a Model for Citizenship Education in African Democracies?’ Comparative Education 40, no. 4 (2004): 545-58.
  4. Eze, Chielozona. ‘Transcultural Affinity: Thoughts on the Emergent Cosmopolitan Imagination in South Africa.’ Journal of African Cultural Studies 27, no. 2 (2015): 216-28.
  5. Ifejika, Nkem. “What Does Ubuntu Really Mean?” The Guardian, 28 Sept. 2006,
  6. Mafika. “Hosting the Big Sporting Events.” Brand South Africa, 27 July 2017,
  7. Ndlovu-gatsheni, sabelo j. ‘the world cup, vuvuzelas, flag-waving patriots and the burden of building south Africa.’ third world quarterly 32, no. 2 (2011): 279-93. Http://
  8. “South Africa: How Common Are Xenophobic Attacks?” BBC News, October 2, 2019.
  9. Williams, Donovan. ‘African Nationalism in South Africa: Origins and Problems.’ The Journal of African History 11, no. 3 (1970): 371-83.
  10. ‘Xenophobia, Resilience, and Resistance of Immigrant Workers in South Africa: Collective and Individual Responses.’ In Just Work?: Migrant Workers’ Struggles Today, edited by Hlatshwayo Mondli and Choudry Aziz, 21-40. London: Pluto Press, 2016. DOI:10.2307/j.ctt194xgtm.6.

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Reshaping Post-Apartheid South Africa. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from
“Reshaping Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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