Nationalism refers to an ideology, a form of culture, or a social movement that focuses on the nation. It emphasises the collective of a specific nation. As an ideology, nationalism holds that 'the people' in the doctrine of popular sovereignty is the nation.  Nationalism ultimately is based on supporting one’s own nation.  African nationalism is a political movement for the unification of Africa (Pan-Africanism) and for national self-determination. 

African nationalism attempted to transform the identity of Africans. Rather than seeing themselves as Zulu, Xhoasa, Sotho, etc, nationalist leaders wanted Africans to view themselves as South Africans. After World War I nationalists fostered moves for self-determination.

As a general definition, African nationalism in South Africa can be seen, broadly, as all political actions and ideological elements to improve the status, the rights and position of Africans in the emerging society imposed by white intrusion and conquest.  African nationalism, in South Africa, also embraces the concept of a Pan Africanism.  It is a modern phenomenon which tries to build a nation within a specific geographic area.

The ideal for South Africa among members of the African nationalist movement was a multiracial, democratic society””i.e., the broadest and most inclusive kind of nationalism - with equality and equity; there would be an end to discrimination, inequality and barriers based upon colour or race.  It sought to unite all the indigenous groups in the fight for freedom and against racism and discrimination which has evolved over time to the changing conditions into an inclusive South Africanism.  Its most important strand evolved into the nationalism of the African National Congress which meant the building of a non-racist, non-sexist, democratic society.

The tensions between this and narrow African exclusive nationalism, based on race, is an issue that is still being grappled with by different schools of thought. In South Africa, African nationalism and white Afrikaner nationalism was developed and evolved over time.  It had to deal with the fact that it was faced with a heterogeneous and a racially divided society. 
The initial thrust embodied in the formation of the ANC was to unite all the indigenous peoples to fight for their freedom.

Feature: Garveyism
The majority of the political activists of the 1920s - including members of the ICU, the Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC) - were influenced to varying degrees by the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a West Indian who had moved to the United States during the First World War. Preaching the unity of all blacks, he claimed that liberty would come about only through the return of all Afro-Americans to their ancestral homes - and to this end he had founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914... read more

Collections in the Archives