The euphoria that accompanied the birth of the Rainbow Nation was intoxicating. South Africans had just avoided a bloodbath, miraculously transitioning from the pole-cat of the world to flavour of the month.
It helped that our first democratic president – quite apart from being an international icon – was a public relations genius who genuinely loved people and most charmingly embodied the generosity of the African spirit. He embraced reconciliation, deliberately hiring a young Afrikaans personal assistant and strategically wearing a rugby jersey in 1995. President Mbeki, however, embraced intellectualism and the African Renaissance. Whereas Madiba was warm and gracious, he appeared cold; whereas Madiba spread his magic, he spread his HIV denialism. Sadly for the Rainbow Nation, President Zuma is now being hounded from the political left and right on Nkandla, and South Africans are desperately hoping that there will be some dignity at this year’s State of the Nation Address.
It is hardly surprising that the beauty of the Rainbow Nation is starting to fade. Leaders set the tone; they are the ones who make the nation choose between racism and reconciliation.
We have made progress since the days of petty apartheid, though. Pass-books are long gone – along with whites-only park benches, blacks-only Putco buses and segregated schooling. Fully integrated living, however, is not a fact of South African life. Most suburbs have black residents and most Model C schools have black pupils; but whites who live in townships are oddities who feature in Daily Sun and white taxi passengers still usually turn heads.
Beating racism could take generations, so it is a pity that our various Departments of Education have not seen fit to kick-start the process by making non-black children learn black languages. This would go a long way to facilitating inter-racial understanding, levelling the educational playing-field and promoting mutual respect.
As South Africans, we need to stop seeing each other in terms of the apartheid black-towhite continuum of inferiority and superiority and start appreciating our diversity. We must stop focussing on who is better and who is worse and start enjoying all our fascinating differences. We need another statesman like the nineteenth century King Moshoeshoe who ruled for the mutual benefit of the Basotho, the Boer and the British, with the aim of peace and prosperity for all.
He was both the father of the Basotho nation and a first-class military strategist, a superb politician and a diplomat. He won battles, but he also built a nation.
From a variety of Basotho and Bat swana tribes he created the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, which still stands today. [royalafricansociety.org]
In 2016 the Rainbow Nation needs to find a way forward as members of Team South Africa who defend each other against the world – instead of fighting among ourselves.