Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

Africa: Op-Ed - Who Is an African?

analysis

What we call one another and how we identify ourselves in South Africa is an expression of a complex relationship of sameness and difference, belonging and exclusion.

How we are "named" and how we identify ourselves is not whimsical, but carries the weight of historical experience.

Because terminology is seldom neutral we need to examine why some usage is adopted or disappears and what purpose using or not using one or other term serves.

It is necessary to be very conscious of the effect of using some or other "name" because identity formation carries with it processes that can promote a common society or increase the exclusions that characterised Apartheid.

At the same time we need to be aware that claims of oneness, whether in regard to black and white or to experiences of women, can have the effect of erasing difference, giving inadequate weight to the distinct historical experiences that have been part of the history of some, but not all South Africans and some, but not all women.

While unity and oneness may be desirable, one needs to be conscious of the danger of simultaneously denying or erasing significant elements of the life experience of...

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