The recent uproar over comments by government spokesman and BMF president Jimmy Manyi about Coloureds and Indians, got me thinking about the concept of a Rainbow Nation and whether the levels of racial integration and interaction in South Africa warrant the label “Rainbow Nation” being given to us as a nation.
I couldn’t think about Jimmy Manyi’s comments without thinking about Steve Hofmeyer because I think these two have made comments that represent the two extremes that make up contemporary South Africa, and punch holes in Mandela’s much acclaimed “Rainbow Nation. ” In private conversations I have heard many young black professionals complain about the over-representation of whites in corporate South Africa and how much they get marginalised by these whites who still hold so much power; and there is a growing resentment amongst black professionals about the perceived slow pace of change in corporate South Africa despite the many Charters that have been drawn up to promote that magical word, “transformation.” It is no secret that there is tension between blacks and coloureds in the Western Cape and Indians and Blacks in Durban, so despite the fierce levels of criticism that have been aimed at Manyi for his undoubtedly unwise comments one can’t run away from the fact that his comments represent views that are held by a significant group of blacks, at least in those two parts of South Africa. This is true whether we admit it or not.
I have also heard many white South Africans complain in private conversations about crime, feeling that they are disproportionately targeted which indicates a racial bias and also about lack of employment opportunities and perceived racial laws which minimise opportunities for them in contemporary South Africa. A young, black professional who had a private school education and is highly educated recently, told me that he is now looking to change jobs and find a firm where he can work amongst other black people because he and his friends have realised that in the larger firms they get marginalised by white people. In his words you, “hit a ceiling and they don’t allow you to go higher than that no matter how skilled and competent you are.”
An Afrikaner friend of mine recently told me that his people were being deliberately massacred and marginalised in South Africa, and that he was “gatvol” and thought they should do something about it. Could it be that Nelson Mandela, despite being critically acclaimed, did us a great disservice by claiming that we were a Rainbow Nation and pushing a false reconciliation which was no reconciliation at all? In so doing, he allowed us to build on a false foundation which was always going to come crashing down and now the “chickens have come home to roost” and we see how far apart we actually are despite Mandela’s best attempts to pretend otherwise.
We may celebrate Rugby World Cup victories together, we may go to the same schools and universities, we may work in the same companies and shop at the same places but that doesn’t make a Rainbow Nation. Maybe the starting point needs to be an honest acknowledgment of the truth that: we are not a Rainbow Nation. We are not united at all. We still live in very separate worlds even when we work at the same places and live in the same suburbs. Our dinner table conversations and fire place conversations whilst enjoying a braai over the weekend only serve to reveal this deep division.
Our founding fathers and our forefathers always hoped that they would birth a non-racial South Africa but truth be told we are a long way from achieving that and it is time that we acknowledged that and started dialoguing openly and honestly because it is the only way to build a genuine Rainbow Nation. Despite our best attempts to hide it, the likes of Jimmy Many and Steve Hofmeyer only serve to highlight the fact that there is no Rainbow in South Africa. In writing this I am reminded of a prayer that my great hero Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe prayed whilst being visited by Alex Borraine, lying on his hospital bed, “take away all bitterness from us and help us to work for a country where we will all love each other and not hate each other because hate will destroy us all.”