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Palmberg, Mai

"This is not a contribution to nation-building. I hope it helps disrupt nation-building". These words by film-maker Zackie Ahmat gave a kick-start to the discussions at the international conference on "National Identity and Democracy" held at the University of the Western Cape 14-18 March 1997, and they also introduce the theme for the book with some of the best contributions to the conference. Ahmat's understanding of "nation-building" was the kind of cultural homogenisation ordered from above which has been the rule in many parts of the world, not least in Africa. Nation-building has here often been been a hypocritical cloak for the hegemony of an elite, sometimes mobilising support from just one cultural group. By the title of the conference the organisers wanted to invite a discussion both on the insight that building a nation and building democracy are not necessarily twins, and on the risks of the misuse of power in the name of the nation. South Africa represents a possible and hopeful departure from the homogenisation model, with its explicit pluralism expressed in the adoption of 11 official languages. Six of the papers deal with the South African experiment, with an examination of the policy of non-racialism and the specific challenges posed by migrant workers, group identities and the themes of gender and nation. Other chapters are case studies from national identity formation on the contested cultural terrain in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Angola, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The book also contains an annotated bibliography.


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