Ethnic Unbonding in South Africa

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Manuel Castells notion of ‘ethnic unbonding’ refers to: the gradual withdrawal certain African-Americans are undergoing, so that they no longer are a member of their initial ethnic group. ‘Ethnic unbonding’ is a process where individuals remove themselves from their ethnic groups, because they are either ashamed or humiliated to be associated as part of a stigmatized ethnic identity. “So, race matters a lot. But, at the same time, the class divide among blacks has created such fundamentally different living conditions that there is growing hostility among the poor against those former brothers that left them out. Most middle-class blacks strive to get ahead not only from the reality of the ghetto, but from the stigma that echoes from the dying ghetto project on them through their skin. They do so particularly, by insulating their children from the poor black communities (moving to suburbs, integrating them into white-dominated private schools), while, at the same time, reinventing an African-American identity that revives the themes of the past, African or American, while keeping silent on the plight of the present” Castell, M p.57. Manuel Castell raises cognizance to the fact that black South Africans are gradually disassociating themselves from their original ethnic identities. (‘Black South Africans’ refers to the non-white individuals of South Africa, those who were disadvantaged and traduced in the homelands during the Apartheid regime). These ethnic unbonding patterns were first noticed among African-Americans and now South Africans too are gradually adopting them. Citizens split from their ethnic groups to mainly better their lives, since being a part of a stigmatized ethnic group cannot ensure a successful and pleasant lifestyle. Parents want a better life for the children and they find that to live a better quality lifestyle one needs to firstly get an education. So they get a good education and become a success in life only to put their stigmatized ethnic background behind them, to avoid risking the loss of their achievements. Ethnic performances are rarely practised and individuals lose sight of where they come from. “In the last two decades, geographers have become extremely interested in the issue of ethnicity. Ethnic groups are found in essentially all societies. Ethnic groups are populations that feel a common bond and have a sense of common origin that distinguishes them from other groups. Religion, language, national origin, and skin colour are all used to various degrees by ethnic groups to distinguish themselves from others. It is estimated that the 200 or so independent countries recognized by the United Nations are made up of about 5000 ethnic groups. Increased migration of people in the last 200 years has produced a complex pattern of ethnic groups. Essentially, ethnicity is a spatial concept. Ethnic groups are associated with clearly recognized territories, either some large homeland district or some smaller urban or rural enclaves in which they are the primary or exclusive occupant. In addition, they have somehow marked these places with certain distinguished cultural signs.” (

Ethnicity is socially important. It gives certain individuals a feeling of belonging and prevents one from feeling isolated and alone. It contributes immensely to one’s core identity, focusing mostly on the construction of one’s personal identity, and in turn having an effect on the type of person an individual turns out to be in the future. It forms the basis of an individual’s structure and agency. Ethnicity also promotes national strength which can be built from the diverse cultural resources present in South Africa. It brings together a national identity.

‘Afrikaners historically considered themselves the only true South Africans and, while granting full citizenship to all residents of European descent, denied that status to people of...
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