South Africa: Where Is the Rainbow?
South Africa has given the world some of the most memorable moments in the last two decades, from the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, to witnessing that historic election that would make him the first Black President, post-apartheid in 1994, and most recently, the bitter reality of Xenophobia. For me as an individual, that is not all there is to South Africa. When you say South Africa, the first thing that comes to my mind is its bitter but rich history. Its fertile culture and the numerous creative talents, which South Africa has shared with the world. From the likes of Athol Fugard to John Kani, to Barney Simon, J.M Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Pauline Malefane, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba and from my generation, Zama Jobe, Lira, Simphiwe Dana to name a few…the list goes on and on. South African designers made me fall in love with shwe-shwe before I knew the material was called she-shwe or that it was a traditional South African fabric. In a few weeks time, it will be home and host to the world’s biggest football tournament, the World Cup. All eyes are on South Africa and in recent weeks, South Africa has been in the news media for all the wrong reasons. It is for this reason that I ask, where is the rainbow?
And so, after that historic election, the process of reconciliation and the TRC hearings among many other initiatives, the term, ‘Rainbow Nation,’ became a symbol of multicultural South Africa, the land of the born-free generation. A term Madiba, himself would use in his first month in office to remind people about how important it is to come together and work towards a better future in the New South Africa. I am certain many people expected that dream would come to full realisation but over the years, it has remained clear for all to see, how fractured South Africa as a society is, especially along the lines of racial divides. It is estimated that over 3,000 white farmers have bee killed since 1994.
We all got the news on 4 April that the white supremacist, Eugene Terreblanche, leader of Afrikaner Resistance Movement – AWB, had been murdered on the grounds of his farm. It was a development not needed by South Africa, and with the World Cup so close, it was not time to remind the world how deeply rooted the hatred along racial lines remains. However, it may well be the wake up call the nation needs. To make matters more interesting, Julius Malema, the ANC controversial Youth leader, who has left me wondering, how he got so powerful was banned a few days before from singing the anti-apartheid song, ‘kill the Boer.’
At this point, let me admit that until two weeks ago, I had no idea who Eugene Terreblanche was. However, like me, many people out there are now fully aware of this man and what he stood for while alive and even at death. His death opened an old can of worm that many people were trying so hard to forget. It reignited a fierce hatred in the hearts of some people, both black and white. Some from the white quarter are seeking revenge, while some from the black side are saying, he had it coming. It was fascinating to watch and listen to various interviews and observe from the news media how one man can ignite such hate and love from two opposing sides, two very different life fuels which have the power to start or stop a war.
At first, it was suggested that his death was as a result of a pay dispute with two of his employees aged 15 and 28. However, it has now emerged that there may be more to the situation with allegations of a sexual assault coming to the public knowledge. This changes things on a whole different level also because his image will get a battering, which it has received a lot of over the years. There will be those who say this is a smear to divert attention from really getting to the heart of the matter and of course, some may go ahead and come up with their own theories. Whatever happens, his death really made me think about the young and fragile rebirth of a nation with so much to offer the world, yet its fragility is painful to watch from afar because whenever that fragility is the subject of a news story, it is always in a negative light and that hurts. From riots to a political leader, who has made himself the butt of all jokes in international news media and to the most painful subject of all, racial divides.
Murder is to be condemned no matter the reason with which anyone justifies it. And I commend the leadership of South Africa for doing just that despite accusations that Jacob Zuma has not done enough to reach out to the white community since he was elected. Whenever it is reported that there are poor white South Africans, people find it shocking but that is a reality of life. There are poor white people world over, hence, why do we make the subject of poor white people in South Africa a special issue. Poverty affects all and that is why we must fight it and make sure we all live at a descent standard of living. Please, do not misunderstand me. I can understand why it seems to be a special issue because people never thought they would hear of a poor white South African but poverty as it happens has become part and parcel of life’s many cruel realities. Let us collectively deal with it and stop giving it a special status.
Racism is still deep in the Psyche of South Africa. That was clear for all to see at the court hearing for the accused defendants. With the police called in to keep the peace and standing between white supporters and the black community who came to show support for the accused. The old national anthem of apartheid era was ringing out loud from the white supporters, which was countered with the new national anthem of South Africa, by the Black supporters. Racism was thick in the air and the decision of a young white South African to pour water on the other side did not help things. Neither did the sentiments expressed by both sides, which seek to blame and not find solution. The stench of hatred is so foul, even the rainbow with all its beauty would disappear because the foulness of racism would be so overwhelming, it would have decided, this is not where I belong.
The killings of white farmers, inequality reported by white South Africans and the fact that they say they feel marginalised has not helped but heightened the tensions that exist. Hence, when we say, ‘Rainbow nation,’ what are we talking about? Gone are the days from that 1995 Rugby World cup when the nation came out in full force to support the SA team. That achievement is the subject of a film by Clint Eastwood, Invictus, though reality says otherwise. The reality on the grounds says the colour of a man’s skin still has a lot to do with the way a man is treated. The reality on the grounds says, people are still harbouring hatred based on the colour of the skin of their neighbour and fellow countrymen. There are those who feel let down and so, they blame it on race and not the political powers that promised so much but are yet to live up to all its promises. What I find interesting is the very fact that South Africa is at a crossroad, a young democracy with its own fractures beginning to show, no one is asking questions that will help steer South Africa on the path it set out on. Instead, people are quick to jump to the defense of a thug who says he is a leader and wields power like a president when he is yet to earn it.
I do not apologise for Eugene Terreblanche or what he stood for though his death and the way he died is regrettable. I do not apologise for the new stench of racist sentiments or approve of it by parts of the white community nor do I apologise for the sentiments of justification expressed by members of the black South African community. What I do ask and question is when are South Africans going to start living up to their famous name of being a ‘Rainbow nation.’ It is not enough to say it, you must live and practice it. For a nation still experiencing repositioning on all sides, South Africa still has a lot of work to do in its own healing and this may well be a good opportunity to do so. Both sides need to stop blaming each other and get working to heal their wounds. But then again, that may be wishful thinking if America after years of civil rights movement is still deeply divided. Who knows, South Africa could learn a thing or two from the US. Ain’t this something, Africans who cannot stand Africans because of race and colour. Go figure!
If anything stood out from the last two weeks, it is the way young men and women from my generation expressed hatred without shame to international media saying, they will take up arms. It was scary and deeply disturbing because if that is how they feel, what does the future hold for South Africa? To watch members of the older generation who lived through apartheid talk about taking up arms again was truly sickening, shame on all of you. Get over your pain, your hurt, hatred and anger and work to see that your children do not repeat your mistakes. Rainbows are beautiful but this, this is ugly.
And just as I am thinking about the actions of the last few days, I get a book which I have to review. Written by Dominique Lapierre, A Rainbow In The Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa, explores the history of South Africa, from the days of colonisation to present day. It seeks to examine and expose the atrocities committed by a government against its own people. Its press release says, “Its focus is the triumph of the anti-apartheid movement as it introduces us to the people who, through spirit and resilience, built the country now known as the Rainbow Nation.” How ironic. I cannot wait to finish it and see how this whole history playing out before us started.
Hence I ask again, where is the rainbow? For the clouds seem awfully dark right now
Image: Rainbow Over Waenhuiskrans by Steve Crane, Geography of South Africa