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On Wednesday 25 April 2018, Prof Gerhard (Gerry) Maré presented a seminar at JIAS on ‘Versions of a shared identity: mobilising ethnicity’. This was the seventh in the 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows Seminar Series.


Ethnic and cultural distinctiveness, and associated social identities, have been employed towards inclusion and exclusion in South Africa, especially since state formation in 1910. Race, ethnicity, and notions of nation, have all served to maintain or struggle towards political and economic power.

My writing follows the continuation of these elements into the inclusive democracy that was established in 1994. I do this through historically contextualising the politics of what is now the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where violent clashes of ‘ethnic group’ and ‘nation’ resulted in the death of more than 15,000 people in the 1980s and 1990s.

I argue the continuing relevance of ethnic politics through sketching the careers of three central figures: Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, and Zwelithini Goodwill kaBhekuzulu. Each of these characters are located in meaningfully different ways within Zuluness, potentially providing insight into ethnicity as lived culture and ethnicity as nationalism; and, thus, the awkward co-existence of monarchy and a republican constitution, subject and citizen.

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