Nation is a somewhat controversial English term, usually referring to a group of people who share common characteristics attributed (e.g. language, traditions, customs, mores, habits, ethnicity, and in many cases, land/region). In a political sense it is often used with reference to a particular group which is/has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.
Use in South Africa
However, in the word has gained a specific meaning and for a while exhibited strong emotive qualities, notably in certain periods of the history of the Afrikaners, when the Afrikaans-speaking white population of the country were striving towards a sense of nationhood. For a long while thus it was broadly defined as a grouping of people who share a common history, language and ethnic origin, and usually govern themselves or strive for it.
This definition was an important political concept and would become one of the underlying principles that led to the evolution of Apartheid.
Under the new, far more complex ethnic, linguistic and historic circumstances of the "New South Africa" of 1994, this definition is being challenged on a number of fronts, and in fact the country itself is faced with the dilemma of re-defining nationhood per se, especially in terms of a country with 11 official languages and a multitude of social, religious and other variables.
Related South African terms
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