Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma: Contrasting Approaches to Nation-Building

William Gumede (University of the Witwatersrand)

Following colonialism and apartheid – with accompanying ethnic divisions, conflict and state-sponsored economic inequalities - the great challenge is to cobble together a new common South Africanness. Yet, more than 350 years of colonialism and apartheid has meant that South African cultures are not ‘gated communities’, with fixed borders, but more often than overlaps considerably, beyond just the occasional shared word or value. This means that a common South African identity is bound to be one of ‘interconnected differences’. The ethnic, language and regional diversity bequeathed by both colonialism and apartheid must mean that modern South Africanness cannot be but a ‘layered’, interwoven and mosaic. Such a common South African identity and the future will have to be built as a mosaic of the best elements of our diverse pasts and present, histories and cultures. A central pillar of a common South African identity will have to be based on inclusive democracy, ethnic, colour and political diversity, core shared values and empathy for the vulnerable that cut across the racial, colour and political divide. Such a broader South Africanness will have to be based on self-identities that are vested in the commonly held Constitution, democracy, democratic institutions and democratic values. The challenge since the end of formal apartheid in 1994 has been how to build a common South Africanness on the basis of our ‘interconnected differences’, diversity and inclusive democracy. Leadership style matters very much to foster a common South Africanness out of our diversity, ‘interconnected differences’ and shared democracy. The paper will look at the national building approaches of former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, and critique their attempts to foster a common South African identity, to make an argument for new approaches.