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The De-saturated Rainbow Nation

25 May 2012, 12:44

I’ll be the first the first person to put my hand up and say that I’ve learnt something – perhaps something I’ve always known, and acted on, and yet still refused to admit to myself. What exactly am I referring to? Well, this is part of the problem; I don’t think it’s any one thing although it can be attributed to one thing – white people in South Africa; more specifically, colonisation and more recently Apartheid. The consequences of whiteness in South Africa, and the lesson I’ve learnt there from, is that there is a so clearly obvious anger, hatred, jealousy, and aggression held by the black people of South Africa. What follows, will be my discussion on whether the aforementioned emotions are valid or rightful and what part the white people living in South Africa today play in either lessening or increasing these emotions.

The reason for this sudden awakening has been the simple observation of what has transpired in South Africa over the last few months. Specifically, incidents such as the thoughtless utterance from a now infamous blonde model and the back and forth that continued afterwards over various online platforms such as Twitter, forums and comments/discussions at the end of news reports. Thereafter, the more recent “Zumaspear” debacle; a painting from Brett Murray depicting ANC President Jacob Zuma looking suave with his penis for all to see – and again, the intense back and forth that has followed and continues to follow.

At first, I was offended. I was reading opinions from black people, my fellow South Africans, with whom reconciliation had been affected. In and around the 1990s, upon the symbolic release of Mandela, the rainbow nation was born. All was forgiven and then was the time to begin afresh, start anew and put the past behind us. However, sometimes a symbol is nothing more than that, a symbol. It was in fact, a convenient reconciliation as can be noted by the current showings of the Noble Peace Prize winner FW de Klerk – again, another symbol of our reconciliation. Let it be noted here that I am not a pessimistic person and in fact a highly optimistic one and perhaps it was my optimism that blinded me. I was only 6 years old in 1994 and therefore, it was even easier for me to accept that a true reconciliation was made – I saw pictures and videos of Mandela and de Klerk holding each other’s arms up; I was taught (in my private school) that we are now one nation – reconciliation had been made.

Why then, was I reading all these emotionally fuelled responses to the two scenarios noted above and moreover, general opinions of blacks in South Africa? Well, by now I hope you as the reader can draw the same conclusion that I did – there never was reconciliation; there still hasn’t been. As a nation, we are still very much divided – a de-saturated rainbow nation. This is because white people (and perhaps in part, black people) were content with symbols such as Mandela, deKlerk, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the Rugby World Cup et cetera to be represent our reconciliation.

I believe that since 1994, South Africa has been in a honeymoon period and since then; the cracks have started getting bigger, engulfing the mere symbols of reconciliation that stood before and with that has exposed the true, dire situation that the country is in. This is not to say that the facts and figures of those living without food/water/education/houses were not enough to make us see reality. The honeymoon is over and the married couple is no longer happy; having rushed into things.

So, to answer the question; is black anger and the other various emotions justified? Before this question is answered, I think we should first consider the role that white people today play in relation to this black anger and lack of reconciliation.

I was Mandela’s generation, I started school in 1994. However, throughout my schooling and more importantly, to this day it is not compulsory to learn an African language. Yes, there are 9 official African languages (in line with reconciliation made) but why are children of today not learning a language spoken by the overwhelmingly vast majority of our country; instead, Afrikaans is chosen. To learn this ‘foreign’ language would put a lot of whites outside their comfort zones and this needn’t be – especially after reconciliation has been made.  There has been very little effort from white people in general to immerse themselves in the culture that surrounds them because it’s easier not to. This comfort and lack of action will simply lead to a ‘protection’ of the separation of people.

White people have made peace with Apartheid, reconciliation has happened. This is no clearer than in the fact that white people do not appreciate the fact that they are privileged. To an extent, we can all agree that a lot of white people have earned everything they’ve worked for but, they’ve had the opportunity to do so. We hear stories of European migrants coming to South Africa with nothing by the clothes on their back and yes, it is admirable that they made a life for themselves but we must consider that they had the very essence of what was needed – an opportunity. Therefore, to say that one race is ‘previously disadvantaged’ is to say that the other race is no longer advantaged. Well, I had an advantage, while neither me nor my family participated actively in Apartheid; we reaped the benefits, the privileges. The fact that my grandfather and father were able to work hard for their money and the fact that I was able to go to a private school is evidence enough of my privilege.

So, to answer my question, it would seem that black people do indeed have reason to be angry. Not only was the reconciliation made nothing more than symbolic but it seems that white people are more than content with this version of reconciliation. Obviously, and fairly so, black people are not quite as content with this faux of a reconciliation.

However, there is still a divergence of opinions. It appears that the aforementioned basket of emotions has bred a new opinion. This opinion is that there is an agenda amongst white people in South Africa that they are making a concerted effort to keep the oppression of black people alive. Whilst, I might at very most agree that the lack of effort on white peoples’ part is active in a way – I can confidently say there is no secret ploy to expose black people for their ‘blackness’. Perspective can be drawn from the ‘Zumaspear’ state of affairs. There were many black people who cried out that Murray is just another white South African trying to expose blacks for their blackness. Why couldn’t the perception be that Murray is exposing a man who promised to act in the best interests of the poor; a man representing the black liberation party – exposing the fact that Zuma isn’t the norm of the black population or people in general but rather a parasite.

I don’t claim to be holier than thou or in any way righteous. I claim to have reached a conclusion, a glaringly obvious conclusion – one that I have perhaps known all along. Perhaps I am not alone in my hidden knowledge of the obvious. If you don’t know by now, let your black friend tell you, reconciliation hasn’t been affected – you are still privileged and until there are equal opportunities you will remain privileged. This is however, not solely the fault of the white man, although it does rest mostly upon his shoulders; the current government has not been pulling their weight in improving equality in opportunities in the broader sense of the term nor have they been affecting real reconciliation -  we can’t view this as an attack on black people but rather, facts.

I do not think, however, that it’s not all grim. I know from personal experience that there is a lot of love out there; there are people who have made peace with each – as individuals. However, as a nation, we have a long way to go but I believe that after this storm, the rainbow will indeed show itself.

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