Among the scholars, academics, political analysts and activists – even those not favourably disposed to Neville Alexander's political convictions and practices – there can be little dispute about his immense contribution to the discussions about the National Question in South Africa over the last several decades. He has played a critical role in the debates following the publication of his One Azania, One Nation: The National Question in South Africa under the nom de plume, No Sizwe (Alexander, 1979).
In this chapter we will pay particular attention to this writing because it provided the most comprehensive statement of Alexander's views on the subject. In it he first set out the basis for a historical examination of the National Question, pointing to the wide range of perspectives from political analysts, academics and scholars and, most importantly, the ideas of the ideologues of liberalism and apartheid, and the views held by the organisations of the oppressed. In this work and in his subsequent writings Alexander explored the multiplicity of concepts relevant to the National Question such as race, nation, national group, ethnicity, separatism and the like. His coruscating critique subjected many of the prevailing conceptions on this issue to a thoroughgoing scrutiny that was important not only for proper theorisation in its own right but also for its construction of the strategic practices necessary for confronting exploitative and oppressive relations in South Africa.
We believe that his writings continue to inspire strong debate on the difficult questions of social change, and that they inform how we understand the nature of the contemporary conversations and policy pronouncements about South Africa's transformation, its development agenda, and indeed its revolution. In this contribution we set out to discuss Neville Alexander's work using the conceptual lens that he brought to the National Question. Such an examination will, in our view, be just as useful for what an examination of the National Question implies for the present – both theoretically and in practice.
Subsequent to the completion of his seminal work on the National Question, Alexander wrote several pieces which elaborated and clarified his views on this issue. We hope to provide a fairly coherent presentation of his ideas, given the space limitations of this chapter. We first set out a clear exposition of Alexander's views on the National Question, and then move on to deal with some criticisms of his ideas.