user preferences

New Events

Southern Africa

no event posted in the last week

The Poison of Nationalism

category southern africa | migration / racism | opinion / analysis author Wednesday September 10, 2008 15:58author by Steffiauthor email zacf at zabalaza dot net Report this post to the editors

Some of the people attacked in recent xenophobic pogroms in South Africa were born in South Africa or have a South African passport. Aren’t they South Africans? What makes a South African? How many generations must one have lived here to be accepted? What skin colour does one have to have? When thinking about this it quickly becomes clear that who is a South African and who is not is not a scientific decision. It is about what people think and want and this changes over time.

We as anarchists - and therefore internationalists - say that no one is illegal. We do not accept borders of any kind. For us, everyone is only human, not South African, nor Zimbabwean nor any other nationality. Every person on earth has the right to live wherever he or she chooses. Borders are only a recent creation to keep working class people around the world divided and to bring some opportunists to power because they have a whole country behind an imaginary idea. Not only are borders a recent creation; so is nationalism. We only make one distinction: between oppressors and oppressed.

Nationalism is a belief that we somehow belong together just because we were accidentally born in a certain place. It is a belief that seeks to connect millions of people, even though they don’t know each other and might have nothing in common. Everyone within certain borders is supposed to be similar and everyone outside the borders is supposed to be different. This necessarily leads to the forced assimilation of minorities within one state which includes the wiping out of cultural diversity and of people who are not seen to be “true Germans”, “true French”, “true Americans” or “true South Africans”. It necessarily leads to the exclusion of the majority of the world and represses those who seek shelter from oppression or starvation at home. A nation has to be created artificially, it is not natural, and the people have to perceive themselves as a national community. Nationhood is a state of mind based on common myths and memory, regardless of whether it is true or not.

It is nationalism that makes up the myths of Zimbabweans taking our jobs or stealing South African women. It is nationalism that would have us believe that a poor woman living in a shack in Alexandra has more in common with a wealthy businessman living in a mansion in Sandton, simply by virtue of the fact that they are both South African, than she does with an unemployed worker living in a shack in Harare.

Nationalism came about only in recent centuries. It has led to hundreds of wars ever since, to fascism and Nazism. It has killed millions of people, raped millions of women (a nationalist strategy to wipe out foreigners used all over the world) and tortured not only those from other nationalities but also people fighting against nationalism. It has discriminated against immigrants and nomadic people; it has justified racism, ethnicity and genocide. Nationalism is therefore directly related to racism. It is directly related to fascism and genocide.

Nationalism is a bourgeois invention of the ruling class to win the loyalty of the working class. The working class has a history of internationalism; frequently rulers, or those who wish to be rulers, have had to trick the workers into following the nationalist banner. Without nationalism, we might now have a system without artificial borders, a system that is not based on the exploitation of the vast majority of the people by a small national elite. We might have that very system we struggle for: a world without borders and capitalism.

Nationalism, the idea that everyone within artificially drawn borders is the same, is absurd. Even more absurd is to speak about nation-states, a goal most states in the world work towards. There is not one state in the world that is made up of only one nation, or only one culture. In every state there are minorities, whether they are traditional minorities, nomadic people or immigrants. As such, nationalism will always violate certain people’s rights; it will always exclude people who are different.

Nationalism divides people on a false basis. National borders solidify the sovereignty of the ruling classes over working and poor people - nothing more. The state and capitalists use the borders against us. They themselves can move their money and goods across borders, but they prevent normal people from having the same freedom as they do. They tell us that immigrants come and take away our jobs when at the same time millions of jobs are exported by our capitalist compatriots, to countries where they can pay workers lower wages and where workers are not allowed to unionise. Many things decrease local employment levels but ultimately the system is to blame. It’s the plain old greed of those who own land, companies and the means of production which causes a bigger problem. Instead of looking at the root of the problem, people are conditioned to find someone to place the blame on. So-called foreigners are one of the scapegoats.

It is important to point out here that internationalists are against liberal conceptions of a world without borders to establish free trade. We are against free trade because it only means the freedom of the wealthy to further exploit us, unhindered by state regulations. Our aim is a world without trade and exchange and money and private property, where goods are produced and distributed for the needs of all and not for profit. Trade is always about profit and therefore about exploitation.

Nationalism originated in Europe and was imported to Africa via colonialism. African nationalisms are based on European colonialism, since they inherited colonial boundaries and continued to use colonial languages for administration. Most of the time it was better educated and thus also wealthier people in the cities who started nationalist movements. Nationalism can thus be regarded as an urban elite phenomenon.

While nationalism can help a people to rid themselves of alien domination such as colonialism, it is also clear that it can result in the elimination of certain minorities within a territory to create a homogenous nation. The genocide in Rwanda is only one example of many. In South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism played a similar role: it was an anti-colonial nationalism that tried to root out black South Africans. And now, the dominant black nationalist ideology is doing the same thing in relation to foreigners. Much of this disaster is the legacy of colonialism and colonial ideas. Nationalism has become an easy way for the ruling class to make the oppressed turn against other oppressed people.

Chauvinistic violence in South Africa is on the rise. This can be easily explained with a psychological example that is probably quite universal throughout the world. Frustrated at work and from being shouted at by his boss, the husband goes home and shouts at his wife because of a simple mistake she made – perhaps overcooking the meal. The wife, frustrated by her husband being righteous, shouts at the child because she didn’t wash her hands before eating. The girl, frustrated by always getting told what to do by her parents, can only get rid of her frustration by hitting the dog or her doll.

Coming back to South Africa, we see that frustrated people turn against those that are more vulnerable, like women in general, lesbians in particular and immigrants. They are more vulnerable and one thus sees one’s power more immediately. The struggle against the ones that are really responsible for our frustration, our bosses and the government, is seen as harder to achieve and is thus not immediately rewarding. However, in the long run, this is the only way to get rid of our frustration. Turning on our weaker brothers and sisters only helps the bosses.

Proudly South African

The same that can be said in most countries in the world is also true for South Africa. Born out of colonial interests and with no respect for local conditions, borders were artificially constructed and defended. South Africans were first united in their common subjugation, which was based on race. To succeed, opposition to this racist rule had to be united. The ANC – which, from the beginning, was a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois party – sought the loyalty of the workers through nationalism, seducing them away from more progressive movements. Since the end of apartheid this nationalist unity has had to be reproduced.

Crucial to this is the slogan “Proudly South African”, a slogan with which we have been indoctrinated for seven years. Proudly South African is a slogan the national elite needs in order to be backed by the majority, the working class, which actually has much more in common with poor Zimbabweans than it does with South African millionaires. It’s also a campaign supported by all major South African companies to get people to buy South African, supposedly to create jobs and economic growth. But Proudly South African also implies that there is something to be proud of our borders that have been artificially drawn, that there is something to be proud of our common history. And most importantly, that we have to be proud to be South Africans as compared with anything else, that we are something better.

Given this fact a horrible question arises: did South Africans act ‘proudly South African’ when they attacked foreigners? We hope not but such slogans certainly lead to xenophobia. Mix these slogans with poverty, exploitation and starvation, with fear and confusion, and murder is likely to follow.


Another drop of poison is added to the mix by the cult of leaders. There seems to be a deep mistrust among the majority of people living in South Africa in themselves. People always look for leaders and leadership; they only dismiss leaders if they don’t act quickly or strongly enough - not because they don’t need them, but because they are looking for stronger leaders. As has been seen throughout history, from the earliest recorded history up until now, leaders have most (if not all) of the time betrayed the people, especially poor and working class people. They lie to us and use us, persuade us with nationalist sentiments to fight and die for a country that does not support us, for which only we have to give even if we don’t have enough. We cannot rely on any leaders. If we follow them blindly we will be lost, we will follow them onto the battlefields and die for their personal issues and gains. We will gain nothing for ourselves; our family does not gain dignity because of their fallen sons, brothers and fathers. They are not heroes as our leaders want us to believe. They are victims who have been tricked into blindly following leaders into war, after having not stood up against them.

Killing people because they are different, because the leaders condemn them, or because the nationalist ideology of the bosses says they don’t belong here, is in no way heroic and in no way a solution to our problems. Our fight is not against Zimbabweans and Mozambicans and Somalians; it is against the capitalists, against the bosses, against the politicians, against the leaders. When we, the working class, rely on ourselves, collectively, and not on leaders; when we organise from the bottom up rather than the top down; when we act on understanding rather than prejudice, and on solidarity rather than chauvinistic hatred – then we will be able to rid ourselves of capitalism and the state, of poverty and starvation, of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism; then we will be able to build a world where all are free and equal comrades.

Originally published In "Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Class Struggle Anarchism", issue number nine, available online in .pdf version at the link below.

Related Link:

This page has not been translated into Türkçe yet.

This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch

Front page

Reflexiones sobre la situación de Afganistán

Αυτοοργάνωση ή Χάος

South Africa: Historic rupture or warring brothers again?

Declaración Anarquista Internacional: A 85 Años De La Revolución Española. Sus Enseñanzas Y Su Legado.

Death or Renewal: Is the Climate Crisis the Final Crisis?

Gleichheit und Freiheit stehen nicht zur Debatte!

Contre la guerre au Kurdistan irakien, contre la traîtrise du PDK

Meurtre de Clément Méric : l’enjeu politique du procès en appel

Comunicado sobre el Paro Nacional y las Jornadas de Protesta en Colombia

The Broken Promises of Vietnam

Premier Mai : Un coup porté contre l’un·e d’entre nous est un coup porté contre nous tou·tes

Federasyon’a Çağırıyoruz!

Piştgirîye Daxuyanîya Çapemenî ji bo Êrîşek Hatîye li ser Xanîyê Mezopotamya

Les attaques fascistes ne nous arrêteront pas !

Les victoires de l'avenir naîtront des luttes du passé. Vive la Commune de Paris !

Contra la opresión patriarcal y la explotación capitalista: ¡Ninguna está sola!

100 Years Since the Kronstadt Uprising: To Remember Means to Fight!

El Rei està nu. La deriva autoritària de l’estat espanyol

Agroecology and Organized Anarchism: An Interview With the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FARJ)

Es Ley por la Lucha de Las de Abajo

Covid19 Değil Akp19 Yasakları: 14 Maddede Akp19 Krizi

Declaración conjunta internacionalista por la libertad de las y los presos politicos de la revuelta social de la región chilena

[Perú] Crónica de una vacancia anunciada o disputa interburguesa en Perú

Nigeria and the Hope of the #EndSARS Protests

© 2005-2021 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]