The Substance of Identity: Territoriality, Culture, Roots and the Politics of Belonging

  • V Ojong
  • M Sithole


Post-apartheid South Africa is at the interface of defining its social fibre, but at the same time, it is faced with the challenge of dealing with historical mishaps such as acute socio-economic inequality, and all forms of social engineering of notions of identity. This has led thinkers and researchers to probe into what it means to be a South African. In a recent book titled ‘Do South Africans Exist”, Chipkin (2007: 178) introduced a discourse, questioning the notion of South “Africaness” based on territory and geography. Other recent writings on race and identity continue to question the wisdom of framing identities in terms of culture and other primordial substances. Such substances have brought about a notion of identity that has led to human catastrophes framed in terms of ethnic identities and racial differences. While this paper capitalizes on such criticism, it interrogates academic discourse for not ‘coming out’ with durable explanations of what identities are about and especially what constitutes them. This paper proposes a conceptual analysis and framing of the substance of identities that balances emic and etic explanations. In this formulation an exploration of a range of elements affecting conceptualization of identities is done, including notions of territoriality culture and roots.

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eISSN: 1024-0969