It all started with a cake. A birthday cake. A very large birthday cake. The cake – which was coloured black, green and gold – was really impressive. It had been baked especially for the ANC, which was celebrating its 106th anniversary in East London.The makers of the cake, a local couple, were so proud of their work that they posted pictures of themselves on social media delivering the cake to the ANC birthday celebrations.That’s when all hell broke loose.You see, the proud makers of the cake were white and the political party espoused radical socioeconomic transformation and black empowerment policies. And here was this party giving this prime business to a white enterprise.After some sleuthing by the Twitterati it was discovered that the couple were members or supporters of the DA, nogal. There were fulminations and agitated screams. Cries of betrayal and hypocrisy. All because of a vanilla‚ chocolate and caramel birthday cake.“The DA is not engaged in cake politics. There are far greater issues facing the country at this moment,” said the party’s national spokesperson, Phumzile van Damme.For a Maori visitor to our shores it may have seemed a puerile debate, but the kerfuffle over the cake was just an illustration of how deep racial divisions run in South Africa.It takes very little to trigger an explosive racial incident, which unfortunately often becomes physical. We are not the syrupy rainbow nation that the diminutive archbishop and the first president of “free” South Africa wished us to be. These two great men wished us to be a human representation of the flag. They so wished us to be, they even believed we had arrived there.Regretfully not enough practical work had gone into building that nonracial society, which in any case was always going to take decades of effort to perfect.We celebrated the achievement of a nonracial society without confronting the lingering reality of our past and dealing with the healing process.Now we are paying the price. We are regressing. The sooner we admit how much we despise one another, the sooner we will begin working on practical ways to cure the hate that apartheid implanted in our hearts.From the social-media row about cakes, the conflict moved into real life. The street on which Hoërskool Overvaal sits became a microcosm of the real South Africa. This is the South Africa in which kaffir, coolie, boesman and bhunu are spat out with venomous intensity. In this South Africa we share laughs and call one another “friend”; “boet”;“ mate”; “girlfriend” and other endearing terms while sneering under our breath. We make polite conversations in queues and let our real selves out in the comfort of the local pub and the Sunday braai. This South Africa used to appear only occasionally but it is now rearing its head with increasing frequency.This should not surprise us. Apartheid had white supremacy at its core. It promoted the philosophy that some races were superior and others inferior. The higher up you were on the food chain, the better you got to eat, and the lower down you were, the more deserving you were of hard crumbs.Apartheid poisoned the minds and hearts of the perpetrator race. The poison was so strong that it is deep in the bloodstream and has even been passed on to the generations that followed. The ideology also set in place racially based structural inequality that would ensure its legacy would outlive its existence. The yoke still hangs on the necks of the victims and ensures persistent anger and resentment, albeit subdued.It has not helped that the ANC – historically the champion of nonracialism – had been missing in action and spent the past 10 years protecting a plundering villain when it should have been leading society. Instead of playing its historical role, the ANC opted for the easier route of simply being a mirror reflection of the worst elements of society. Superior intellectual engagement made way for rough talk that just fuelled fires. At times the only way you could distinguish an ANC leader from Andile Mngxitama was familiarity with a comb. South Africa’s racial divisions will not be waved away with a wand. Beyond healing the wounds, creating social cohesion and forging harmony we need to tackle the crisis of race-based inequality head on.It was encouraging to hear the incoming president say we should use the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth to focus on the late icon’s “vision of a nonracial society in which the social and economic barriers that have separated black from white are torn down”. It was also heartening to see that this will not be an airy-fairy, feel-good project but will be accompanied by “efforts to build a society in which black poverty and white privilege are consigned to the past, replaced by respect, solidarity and nonracial equality”.Although the main priority for South Africans this year is to repair the destruction left behind by the villain, putting the country on the road to a real nonracial future should be right up there on our to-do list. And what better year to do that than in a year that will be dominated by the teachings of Madiba.