Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Is South Africa a nation-state, a multinational state, or a multi-state nation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A nation-state is a state where the majority of the population shares the same culture, or in other words, is composed of one nation predominately. An example of this would be the island state of Japan.

A multinational state, on the other hand, is a sovereign state that is comprised of two or more nations. This can also mean that the state has numerous cultures or languages, since the very definition of culture in terms of sociology touches on these factors. Some examples of this would be the United States or the United Kingdom.

A multi-state nation is a group of people with common characteristics but living in differently governed sovereign states within the group. An example of a multi-state nation would be the nation of Korea, as the North and South Korean people share a common heritage but operate in vastly different sovereign states.

With these definitions in mind, we can easily deduce that South America is, in fact, a multinational state, given that there are two or more groups of people with separate heritages and cultures operating in the same state.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Republic of South Africa can best be described as a multinational state for several key reasons. A multinational state is a country in which more than one nation (which includes ethnic groups, political identities, and language groups) are full members of a single sovereign entity.

South Africa is the successor of the Union of South Africa, which was created by the British in 1910 when they combined several territories into a single political and administrative body. Within its territory are numerous distinct ethnic groups and eleven official languages (plus numerous recognized but unofficial ones). Most of the individual nations within South Africa inhabit a specific region of the country, although major cities are more characterized as multicultural melting pots.

Although the South African government has done much to encourage a single South African identity in recent years, the country remains largely heterogeneous, and clear national identities and divides can be easily seen within and throughout the country. For all this, South Africa is more closely aligned with the definition of multinational state than the other terms.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

South Africa is definitely a multinational state.  To understand why this is, we have to understand how the terms “nation” and “state” are used in social sciences disciplines like political science and human geography.

In everyday usage, people use the term “nation” to mean a country.  In this usage, South Africa would be a nation.  However, this is not how social scientists use the term.  To social scientists, a “nation” is essentially an ethnic group.  It is a group of people who share a common identity that is based on something like religion or culture.  It is not a political entity the way that a country is.

When social scientists want to talk about countries, they usually use the term “state.”  A state, in this usage, is the same thing as a country.  This means that South Africa is a state because it has defined boundaries and a government that is sovereign within those boundaries.

Once we know these definitions, we can see that South Africa cannot be a multi-state nation.  This is because South Africa is a state and not a nation.  Using these definitions, along with what we know about South Africa’s demographics, we can also say that South Africa is not a nation-state.  A nation-state is a state like Japan where essentially the whole population of the state belongs to the same nation.  We know that South Africa is home to many different ethnic groups/nations, which means that it cannot be a nation-state.  Instead, it is a multinational state.  It is a state in which people of many different nations live. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial