After the rainbow nation: Jacob Zuma, charismatic leadership and national identities in Post-Polokwane South Africa

Natascha Mueller-Hirth

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


This paper argues that Jacob Zuma’s rise to power marks the mobilisation of a new discourse of nationalism in Post-Apartheid South Africa, after what appears to be the ultimately failed project of the rainbow nation. This is performed in juxtaposition to Zuma’s predecessor Thabo Mbeki who was frequently cast as a distant, elitist and technocratic leader. It is argued that binary oppositions such as populist/ elitist or military/ diplomat enabled a powerful message of change to be produced, for instance with regards to the supposed shit to the left in the Government’s economic policy framework. Subsequently, the paper draws out the connections between the ‘Zumafication’ of left politics in South Africa – a populist rhetoric with little commitment to a substantial pro-poor policy – and the understandings of national identity and nationalism it mobilises. For instance, the portrayal as ‘man of the struggle’ exemplified by Zuma’s famous trademark song ‘Bring me my machine gun’, evokes the liberation struggle as an important narrative in Post-Apartheid nation-building, in part responding to a sense of betrayal felt by the majority population. But Zuma’s displays of a militant, masculinist nationalism arguably also produce versions of national identity that are deeply gendered, and in their insistence on ‘100 percent Zulu’ identity potentially divisive.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Event20th Annual ASEN Conference - Nation and Charisma - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Apr 201015 Apr 2010


Conference20th Annual ASEN Conference - Nation and Charisma
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Bibliographical note

Paper presented at 20th Annual ASEN Conference: Nation and Charisma, London, United Kingdom, April 2010


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