Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

South Africa: A New Nation-State in a Globalising Era?

Prof Bill Freund.

The theoretical approach of this paper will be to suggest that globalisation is best taken as a specific current historical phase, which continues to be rent with conflict and controversy and contains its own political and economic contradictions. It is in no sense “the end” of history; the insistence that “there is no alternative” from the dominant sources of power in the contemporary world is very potent but masks the pursuit of alternatives which may be possible and may be part of the world to come.
South Africa is an interesting example to take up in this regard. The negotiated demise of the old regime after 1990 is often taken to be a high point, or the high point, of the politics of the late twentieth century.
The democratisation of South Africa was powered by the motivation to transform the existing South African nation-state. That state was posited on race. It made an extravagant and impractical attempt to create little nation-states for the various indigenous African ethnic groups as the dominant state defined them in order to legitimate a core white state. Historically, this had been preceded by a more and more archaic colonial logic of domination and trusteeship that assumed white racial superiority. The notorious apartheid policy was an attempt to create racially defined states on a more legitimate basis.
By contrast, the constitution of 1994 posits a non-racial state of common citizenship. However, the dominant political party, the African National Congress, which is supported by some 2/3 of the electorate, is also committed to the advancement of the [racially defined] African majority and effectively promotes black African identity and solidarity at the expense of the minorities, especially the white minority, still powerful within civil society. This is a complex and often contradictory balancing act in which the goal is nonetheless typically posited as an “old-fashioned” nation-state.
At the same time, the ANC leadership has totally committed itself to fitting into a globalised world dominated by international corporations economically and by the USA in tandem with allies politically which powerfully influences its project. This paper aims to look briefly at aspects of the relationship between the pressures of globalisation and the nation-building strategies being pursued in South Africa.


Prof Bill Freund  (South Africa)
Professor & Head of Programme
Faculty of Human Sciences
University of KwaZulu/Natal

Educated at the University of Chicago and Yale, Professor of Economic History since 1985, author of amongst others, The Making of Contemporary Africa and (D)urban Vortex[co-editor].

  • South Africa
  • Nation State
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Globalisation

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)