The Politics of History and Identity

An undercurrent of neo-colonialism and racial segregation is latent but alive, well and firmly entrenched in the lives of the people of Southern Africa.

The apartheid regime in South Africa robbed a nation of its identity and self-esteem – damage that many, both victims and perpetrators, wish to forget but need to remember. Without personal change there cannot be social change. Revisiting and recording the past, revealing the truth and seeking reconciliation are important steps of a cathartic journey for victims of atrocities. They also provide a benchmark for political leaders against which transformation, progress and development can be assessed.

The persistent socio-ethnic differences in the context of socio-political inequalities have been used and abused across Africa for political reasons. Identities such as ‘native citizens’ and ‘foreigners’, ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ have been constructed by political leaders in their struggle for power. The consequences have been xenophobia, fighting, death and destruction.

Over the past twenty years, there has been a fundamental transformation of societies in the region due to democratisation, globalisation, technological progression, individualism, population growth and migration. National, regional and individual identities are in flux.

With the exception of South Africa and Mauritius, countries in the region lack a middle class. The working class in Southern African is relatively small due to a weak industrial sector. Many people are still peasants, but an increasing number are now urbanised and, in the rapidly expanding urban areas, they mix from all over Africa.

Many young women and men in the region are searching for new identities because tradition, often juxtaposed with modernity and personal aspirations, no longer provides them with clear answers. Whereas some find solace in religious belief systems, or inspiration and solidarity amongst family friends or in the workplace, others chase the selfish and materialistic dream.

RLS Southern Africa currently implements, in cooperation with partner organisations, projects involving:

  • research on the legacy of colonialism and racial segregation
  • research on changing identities in Southern Africa
  • public debate and dialogue on the legacy of colonialism and racial segregation and new identities in Southern Africa