Guest Column

The rainbow nation is dead

2019-05-23 05:00
Helen Zille, Wes-Kaapse premier, Woensdag by ’n mediavergadering van die provinsiale regering. Foto: Malherbe Nienaber

Helen Zille, Wes-Kaapse premier, Woensdag by ’n mediavergadering van die provinsiale regering. Foto: Malherbe Nienaber (Foto: Malherbe Nienaber)

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The portrayal of white South Africans as a victimised minority could not be further from the truth and statistics can attest to that. Twenty-five years into democracy, the majority of the economy and land are still in the hands of the few, writes Pearl Mncube.

The rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu is dead.

While the democratic system has delivered political freedom for black South Africans, the economic legacy of apartheid still endures. Poverty, inequality and joblessness amongst black South Africans, in particular, is pervasive. Recently released unemployment data by Stats SA confirms that unemployment amongst black people sits at 31%, while the rate for coloureds sits at 22%. The rate of unemployment for whites is at 6%.

Over the last five years, South Africa has witnessed the rise of open and crass racism. From Penny Sparrow and Steve Hofmeyr, to Dianne Kohler-Barnard; from the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) to AfriForum, black South Africans have been assailed by racist forces hellbent on undoing the illusion of a rainbow nation which many have worked hard to inculcate in the black masses. I say black masses in particular because their economic situation belies the notion of a liberated race.

Racism has not only become more prominent but has increasingly been given room to flourish. The ongoing legal fight between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and AfriForum over the speech qualities of the old South African flag is but an example of a nostalgia by sections of white South African society for a time when black people could be legally oppressed. The court battle has sparked a national conversation around the matter and exposed the fragility of race relations in the country.

MultiChoice's threat to terminate its sponsorship of the 2019 Afrikaans is Groot concert because of the presence of Steve Hofmeyr, and the blowback from the Afrikaans community against this sensible stance by MultiChoice is instructive. That there are still sections of the rainbow nation who want to debate the acceptability of demeaning blacks is quite concerning. That a political party such as the FF+, founded on white fears of the black majority, was able to increase its share of the vote in the general elections points to a societal malaise and the return of a racial chauvinism which ought to have been decisively dealt with over the last 25 years of democracy.

Former DA leader Helen Zille recently took to the streets of Twitter in a rant dismissing the term "white privilege" as a mere generalisation and a form of racism. Zille pointed to what she calls "black privilege", a phenomenon in which black politicians are able loot a country and still get re-elected.

Zille's comments have been received by many as equating stealing with blackness – a common stereotype amongst the dark continent brigade. Other than being incredibly demeaning to black people, the comment by Zille speaks of a growing confidence by white racists to insist on their right to speak their bigoted minds regardless of the danger this poses for the idea of a united, non-racial South Africa. It also throws into sharp focus the falsity of the generalised idea of white acceptance of blacks as equal citizens of this country. 

A general culture of victimhood amongst the white population has birthed the factually incorrect claim of white genocide in South Africa. The idea has been promoted by white nationalist organisations such as AfriForum who have embarked on campaigns and overseas tours in an effort to garner sympathy and support. The portrayal of white South Africans as a victimised minority could not be further from the truth and statistics can attest to that.

Twenty-five years into democracy, the majority of the economy and land are still in the hands of the few. It is commendable that the Economic Freedom Fighters has brought the issue of land ownership forcefully to the fore of the public agenda. Whatever differences about ownership models that may exist on the question of land, the time has indeed come for South Africans to have a frank and honest conversation about land as a proxy for the failure of the rainbow nation narrative. It is time to talk about redress and bridging the inequality gap.

Until white South Africans come to the table and engage honestly in conversations around the economy and land, not much is likely to change. Achieving a true "rainbow nation" is not just a matter of forgiveness, but a matter of systemic redress and will come at a price for all who desire a truly free South Africa. Until real change has taken place, the gaps and the tensions will continue to grow.

- Pearl Mncube is a public policy research intern at Frontline Africa Advisory. She writes in her personal capacity.

* This article was amended after publication.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    ff plus  |  helen zille  |  dianne kohler barnard  |  steve hofmeyr  |  race relations  |  race
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