Identity has become the watchword of our times. In sub-Saharan Africa, this certainly appears to be true and for particular reasons. Africa is urbanising rapidly, cross-border migration streams are swelling and globalising influences sweep across the continent. Africa is also facing up to the challenge of nurturing emergent democracies in which citizens often feel torn between older traditional and newer national loyalties. Accordingly, collective identities are deeply coloured by recent urban as well as international experience and are squarely located within identity politics where reconciliation is required between state nation-building strategies and sub-national affiliations. They are also fundamentally shaped by the growing inequality and the poverty found on this continent. These themes are explored by an international set of scholars in two South African and two Francophone cities. The relative importance to urban residents of race, class and ethnicity but also of work, space and language are compared in these cities.
A recent report of the Office of the South African President claims that a strong national identity is emerging among its citizens, and that race and ethnicity are waning whilst a class identity is in the ascendance. The evidence and analyses within this volume serve to gauge the extent to which such claims ring true, in what everyone knows is a much more complex and shifting terrain of shared meanings than can ever be captured by such generalisations.