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Programme Director, Comrade Neeshan Balton;

Uncle Kathy and Comrade Barbara Hogan;

Former President, Cde Kgalema Motlanthe and Mrs Gugu Motlanthe;

Members of the Board of Trustees of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation:

Esteemed Veterans of our struggle;

Professor Achille Mbebe;

Honoured guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Comrades and Friends:

It is a great honour for me to be invited to speak at the 2015 Ahmed Kathrada Annual Lecture.

Let me start with a confession: when I got the invitation from the Foundation to come and speak at this year’s Annual Lecture, I thought twice before accepting the invitation. Please pardon for thinking that a public lecture is such a serious matter that only those who have something profound, prolific or professorial to say – based either research work, depth of knowledge or the weight of their experience on the subject matter at hand – should be invited to deliver a public lecture.

Naturally, when I received the invitation from the Foundation I got cold feet because I have nothing profound, prolific or professorial to say today.

However, I was very pleased to see that Professor Achille Mbebe is joining me as a respondent. Knowing him, he will have something more profound to raise out of what I will say. Achille, thank you very much for agreeing to join me.

Allow me to convey my heartfelt gratitude to the AKF for giving me the onerous responsibility to speak at this year’s Annual Lecture whose theme is: “The Challenges of Nation-Building – Lessons from Gauteng.

Perhaps the topic should include lessons for Gauteng, not only lessons from Gauteng. This is the case we ourselves are also learning from the collective experience of the first twenty years of our country’s democratic evolution. We are also learning from what is taking place in the rest of the world with regard to the ongoing processes of Nation-building and Nation-formation.

In my address, I will focus on three sub-themes that constitute Nation-Building:

Firstly, I undertake a theoretical treatment of “Nation-Building” as a normative and universal concept applicable to different phases of the evolution of human societies. Secondly, I will undertake a review of the South African experience at Nation-Building both during the liberation struggle and over the past two decades of democracy. This will include highlighting the mistakes we have made in the process of reconstruction and development, reconciliation and nation-building. Lastly, I will conclude by drawing attention to the challenges of the Nation-Building in Gauteng province, s the most diverse and cosmopolitan province which new paradoxes and persistent contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa.

What is “Nation-Building”?

“Nation-Building” is a normative concept that is both historical and contemporary in its meaning and evolution. It is normative because it has universal relevance, though its application will always be dependent on specific conditions of “the nation” in question. The concept has evolved over the last five hundred years, as nations evolve and go through different phases of nation-formation. As new nations emerge and give new meaning to the idea and ideal of “nationhood”, the concept has also developed a contemporary meaning which will be examined and interrogated.

“Nation-Building” is a socio-political process about creating and recreating “the nation”. As a normative concept, Nation-Building has both a historical and contemporary meaning due its continuous evolution.

In a historical sense, every nation has, over the last five hundred years, gone through its own unique phases of Nation-Building to resolve its own specific challenges and contradictions regarding nation-formation and nationhood.

In a normative sense, any Nation-Building project seeks to address three inter-related tasks and challenges:

  • National identity and national reconciliation: Forging and promoting a common national identity and social cohesion to answer the question “who are we and what do we value most as a nation”;
  • State-formation and institution-building: Building strong institutions and a law-governed society which will guarantee the substantive rights as well as safeguard and expand the frontiers of freedoms of the citizenry;
  • Socio-economic transformation and sustainable development: creating the social and economic conditions and infrastructure for people to meet their basic needs, live meaningful lives as citizens and realise their full potential as human beings.

Let us give a full elaboration of each of these three sub-themes and reflect on how we have done as a country and province in each one of them.

Sub-theme One: National Identity and National Reconciliation

At the centre of Nation-Building is the question of “a nation”. The concept of “a nation” has itself evolved and undergone a profound metamorphosis over at least two centuries.

From its initial limited focus on a shared boundary, language, culture, history and heritage in the 19th century, the notion of “a nation” has assumed a contemporary meaning which includes shared values; common national aspirations and and vision for the future regardless of differences in origin, religion, gender, culture or language. A nation is no longer defined only in terms of where we come from and what we have inherited from previous generations. It also encompasses where we want to go and what kind of country or society we want to leave to future generations.

In this regard, nations are in a continuous or permanent state of becoming. No nation is static. As result, Nation-Building is a process that cannot be said to be completed. Demographic transitions, political contestation and re-ordering of social relations play a critical role in nation-formation and re-formation.

In defining and understanding nationhood, there is a major shift from thinking of a nation only in terms of singularity – a common language, culture and history – to a nuanced understanding that you can a nation that whose strength is difference, plurality, diversity and contestation.

South Africa is one of the countries of the world where plurality and diversity rather than singularity has a key feature of our conception of post-apartheid democratic and non-racial nationhood.

In the liberation movement, we have always understood that the “National Question” is about restoring the dignity of all the oppressed, reaffirming the humanity of the oppressed and the oppressor alike creating a new United nation out of a deeply divided and diverse society.

The Strategy and Tactics document of the ANC has the following to say about the SA nation:

“The South African nation is a product of many streams of history and culture, representing the origins, dispersal and re-integration of humanity over hundreds of thousands of years.”  

South African Nation-Building and Social Cohesion strategy emphasises unity in diversity:

“A nation is conceived as a social formation based on the unity and equality of its members consisting the following shared and recognized attributes: shared origin and history; an internationally recognized territory; a unitary sovereign state; a single judicial system; single public education system; nationally recognized languages; nationally recognized cultures; nationally recognized religions; shared values; shared symbols and a shared national consciousness.”

From this point of view, we in South Africa have a progressive and pluralistic approach to nationhood and national identity.  Our common African identity as an African nation is premised on the view that human beings share a common humanity that makes solidarity and concern for the others part of who we are: Ubuntu.

For this reason, we embrace diversity, difference and contestation as part of the strength of South Africa’s relatively young nation. Our new national identity must value human equality, justice and equity. Our democratic state must always strive to expand, not limit or reduce, the frontiers of human freedoms and liberties of all nationalities, including minorities.

In the context of anti-colonial and liberation struggles, building a common national identity is also about healing racial, ethnic and tribal divisions.  The process entails national reconciliation to heal the deep scars created by many years of protracted national conflict, oppression, suppression and exploitation one part of the nation by another. Without investing in reconciliation, it may be very difficult to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and forge a common national identity and shared vision for the future.

South Africa’s leadership invested a lot of energy on reconciliation during the first decade of the transition to democracy. However, there are mixed feelings about South Africa’s reconciliation discourse.

On the one hand, many of us who were involved directly in the protracted struggle which reached a stalemate in the mid-1980s have fresh memories and scars of the conflict that resulted in many deaths, detentions and exile.

As this conflict escalated, our country was increasingly engaged in a civil war could have led to the common ruin of the contending forces and protagonists. Through great foresight and wisdom, a negotiated settlement had to be arrived, which set the scene for a peaceful transition to democracy in 1994. Under such conditions, reconciliation is certainly one of the key elements of nation-building. The debate may be whether both sides made sacrifices in a fair and equitable manner.

On the other hand, there are those who feel the whole reconciliation agenda was a sell-out by people who were tired of fighting. This feeling is very strong among the younger generations, especially some of the students involved in the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement, including the children of most of us involved in the struggle. These feeling also exist among old activists who are deeply trouble by the persistent structural legacy of poverty, inequality and unemployment and the rising problem of corruption. These ill-feelings are reinforced by the evidence that whites continue to be the principal beneficiaries of the past twenty years of freedom and democracy, especially with regard to economic power. Increasing incidents of racism and racial polarization is either and hardening mistrust between blacks and whites reinforce a perception that non-racialism is on the retreat.

Our official programmes of promoting national unity and building a common national identity need a serious re-examination. Whereas we are strong in respecting and celebrating our diversity, we are weak in forging our common humanity. In other words, instead of coming together to build one house called South Africa, we are too comfortable to continue living in separate racial and ethnic spaces created by our oppressors.

We need new ways of forging a common national identity. We need a fresh approach towards celebrating our national days which will ensure that families and communities come together to celebrate who we are and what we are trying to become.  We also need a more coherent state that is capable of pulling the nation together in difficult times.

However, our efforts at forging a common national identity will not succeed without a simultaneous process of state-formation and institution-building as the key driver (not the only driver) of successful nation-building projects.

Let me now focus on the second sub-theme of State-Formation and Institution-Building as a crucial element of Nation-Building.

Sub-theme Two: State-Formation and Institution-Building

The Constitution of a country is the first primary law that seeks to define who we are as a people and what we value as a nation. The nation’s shared vision and values; their collective dream and common aspirations; and their rights and freedoms are all enshrined in the Constitution.

The institutions that must protect, guarantee and expand these rights and freedoms are also defined in the Constitution. These relationship between these institutions – interdependence and independence – is also balanced in the laws of a democratic nation.

Accordingly, building strong institutions and sound laws and inculcating a culture of accountability and respect of the institutions and the laws is one of the most difficult tasks of democratic nation-building. To live in a democracy means to have a law- governed society where citizens have rights and freedoms that cannot easily be taken away by the state. In fact these rights and freedoms must progressively be expanded.

Strong inter-dependent and independent institutions play the role of protecting us against ourselves – against the excesses of power and temptations to get institutions to serve those in power rather the citizenry, the masses.

State-formation also entails building the capacity of the state to set and drive a common national agenda through a stable institutional and legal framework that is able to survive party factions and personalities.

As South Africans, we must be worried when there are signs that some of the instructions of our democracy are deliberately being weakened so that they become dysfunctional. We must be scared when our law enforcement agencies cannot focus on in-fighting instead fighting crime. Our citizens must be vigilant.

We also need strong state institutions to endure and withstand contestation that can lead to the common ruin of the nation. What is common among weak or failed states is their inability to manage diversity, plurality and political contestation that protects the common interests and aspirations of the citizenry.

In democratic societies, changes of government and political leadership are normal and inherent in the operations of a democratic polity. This includes ongoing transformation of the state machinery to meet new policy imperatives and respond to the changing needs of the citizenry.

However, we must jealously guard the stability and integrity of the institutional architecture of the state in order to insulate the state from narrow political manipulation or personal agendas of those of us who are in power.

The individuals occupying positions of authority in institutions are fallible and will consequently commit mistakes from time to time – politicians, law enforcement officials, civil servants, journalists and even the judges. They must and can be criticized. However, we must respect and protect institutions and not make it a norm to attack, discredit or dismantle state institutions.

Building and protecting the integrity of state institutions is an important task of Nation-Building that must be undertaken by the state, civil society and the citizenry alike.

I would like to now focus on the third and last sub-theme of Socio-economic transformation and sustainable development as another crucial element of Nation-Building.

Sub-theme Three: Socio-economic Transformation and Development

State-formation and institution-building is also crucial for undertaking socio-economic transformation and development as the third task of Nation-Building.

Nation-Building is also about framing and creating conditions for a dignified common citizenship in which all citizens are able to live their own lives in peace and harmony and are able to realise their full potential.

The inherited wealth of a country and new opportunities should be accessible to all the people in order to ensure that every citizen enjoys a decent standard of living.

In this regard, Education is the most important societal investment that any nation can ever give to its youth. It is a powerful instrument to create a more equitable society and level the playing field. Without good public education, including free education up to a first degree, the dream of a more equal society will elude us forever. Access to higher education is too dependent on family background and ability to pay for yourself or raise a loan.

It is for this reason that we must support the current generation of students who have highlighted a critical crisis of the cost and inaccessibility of higher education in a country that desperately needs to give hope to millions of young people who are restless and fast losing hope. Nation-Building will falter without restoring

Secondly, without a more equitable public healthcare system that guarantees the majority of our people access to quality healthcare, it will be difficult to forge a common national identity of dignified citizens. Access to quality healthcare is skewed towards the few, leaving out more than two-thirds of our population without medical cover. The private health system has most of our country’s resources and capabilities whilst it serves only twenty percent of our nation.

We need to ensure that the National Health Insurance becomes a reality sooner rather than later so that all the citizens can have equal access to healthcare. We also need to continue the efforts building a culture of service and care in our public health institutions and improve their infrastructure and environment.

For socio-economic development to be sustainable, we must invest in social and economic infrastructure that will enhance social integration, promote local economic development, build sustainable livelihoods in communities and preserve the local life-supporting ecosystems and environment.

There is incontrovertible evidence to show that our current socio-economic development paradigm has improved the asset base and access to basic services for the poor, particularly with regard to access to housing, water, electricity and public transport infrastructure.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that inequality between the rich and the poor has been increasing. Growing inequality between black and white citizens and among black people seriously undermines Nation-Building. We need to pursue radical social and economic transformation in manner that all the previously disadvantaged groups and all the poor people become the primary beneficiaries.

We also need to ensure that the poor are the primary beneficiaries of major public infrastructure investment projects. More profoundly, we have been delivering infrastructure and basic services largely in the African townships and informal settlements, with an almost total neglect of the Indian and Coloured communities. Even on programmes pertaining youth development and economic opportunities for the working class among the Indian and Coloured community, government interventions have been half-hearted. This has serious undermined our Nation-Building project and has singularly contributed to the feeling of marginalization and exclusion among these previously oppressed communities.

We must increasingly shift our focus away from building a clientele state that dispenses patronage to the helpless people, to an activist and empowering state works in partnership with active citizens and a civil society that is critical and sometimes combative. The state cannot and must not promise to resolve every problem that citizens have.

Lastly, one of the major mistakes we have committed is to focus on the material wellbeing without attending to “the soul of the nation”. We have grossly neglected the task of building shared values and a common national identity as we paid too much attention to “bread and butter” as well as “brick and mortar” aspects of our development agenda. Consequently, we are an emerging nation that is trapped in the value system that we sought to destroy – extreme violence and disregard for human life as well as greed, crass materialism and corruption.

What do all these mean for Gauteng?

Lessons for and from Gauteng

In my concluding section, I let me turn my final attention to Gauteng province as a theatre of Nation-Building. There are lessons for us as well as lessons from our own experiences and practice. We ourselves have made mistakes from which we should learn and also teach others.

Gauteng is a province of paradoxes. Openness and tolerance exist side by side with deep suspicion and subtle forms of fear of the other. Blacks and whites don’t trust each other. Huge affluence exists side by side with extreme deprivation – Sandton exists side by side with Alexandra, Diepsloot with Dainfern.

In response to these and many other challenges in our province, the fifth administration I have the honour to lead, is pursuing a vision of building a seamlessly integrated, economically inclusive, socially cohesive and globally competitive City Region; an activist, accountable, responsive and clean government and an active citizenry.

The centre piece of our Nation-Building effort is to forge a new type of cosmopolitanism – an Afropolitanism – which reinforces and emphasizes our common African heritage and common humanity.

Residual racism and resurgent xenophobia are threats we have to contend with because they undermine our non-racial traditions.

Our vision of a future Gauteng is based on transforming our economy, our space, the state and the delivery of social services.

Our vision is to transform, modernise and re-industrialise our economy, build a government that empowers citizens and partner with civil society rather than patronise them.

Gauteng must be the Afropolitan globally competitive City Region that take a lead in Africa’s economic Renaissance and Industrialisation.

As the Cradle of Humankind and Home of Homo naledi, we must take a lead in building a truly non-racial and humane society which celebrates our common African identity and common humanity.

One of the mistakes of the first two decades was to focus only on concrete and mortar and relegate issues of social cohesion and nation-building to the back banner. We are now paying attention to issues of building community cohesion and celebrating heroes of the struggle and exceptional South Africans across the political and racial divide.

It took us two decades to adopt a strategy for Nation-Building and Social cohesion, which was only adopted in 2012.

We therefore have a greater responsibility as Gauteng, to contribute to the national effort towards promoting social cohesion and nation building.

Let me turn to the lessons that we may draw:

  • Lesson 1: Gauteng has the greatest potential to be a home for all. As the most culturally diverse province, cosmopolitan city region and increasingly Afropolitan industrial hub of Sub-Saharan Africa, we have the potential to showcase a progressive nation-building project and Africa’s integration agenda. We have enormous potential to engage in an exercise that can make our province a shining example of an African City Region that is inclusive, tolerant, cohesive and welcoming to all who want to make Gauteng their home. We have not done enough to build broad coalitions and alliances with civil society around a vision of a province that is more non-racial and welcoming to migrants. Racism and xenophobia undermine who we want to be. Government should work in partnership with civil society groups such as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to tackle any resurgence of racism and xenophobia.
  • Lesson 2: We must completely rethink the way in which build public services and infrastructure to ensure that we contribute consciously to the integration of communities among non-racial lines. We also must tackle poverty, inequality and underdevelopment where these problems manifest themselves – among Africans, Indians, Coloured and poor white communities across Gauteng.
  • Lesson 3: Nation-building requires an activist government and active citizenry. We should encourage a posture of a government that works in partnership with and empowers community organisations so that they can play a more active role in solving community problems that don’t require state intervention. We must be unafraid and willing to engage with critical citizens and combative civil society and admit mistakes where they have been made.
  • Lesson 4: Nation-building and social cohesion must not be put on the back banner in favour of delivery of “bread and butter issues of communities”. Programmes to foster a common national identity must be undertaken together with civil society in a genuine effort to get communities to take responsibility for building a truly non-racial society.

Ladies and gentlemen, ours is probably the most exciting and most difficult province to govern. It is the most complex and most promising province with regard to redefining who we are and what we value most as a nation. We have the potential to be the force of example with regard to tackling racism, sexism, ethnicity, xenophobia and homophobia in all their manifestations.




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