OPINION: The rainbow nation need not be a childish daydream

The story of South Africa has been, and continues to be, a tale of two countries. Yes, it seems rather axiomatic thing to say, but when former president Thabo Mbeki said it during his time as our head of state, he caught considerable backlash.

South Africa’s past is something people only seem comfortable to engage with based on how it informs their present. When we went to the polls to vote last month, many South Africans, politicians included, sounded off on inequality, race and privilege.

The most famous of these was Western Cape premier and former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille. Her tweets on "black privilege" perpetuated racial generalisation under the guise of "non-racialism".

You know, in this line of work, one often finds yourself following people on social media platforms whose values are diametrically opposed to your own, simply because they are personalities of consequence or because they are incumbent in some or other prominent office.

With that said, I am not going to deny that un-following former Zille's Twitter page after the elections gave me the greatest pleasure on earth.

There is a lot that South Africa needs to discuss in order to make sense of where we are at as a nation. One of the mistakes we have made while trying this in the past is assuming that everyone in the country wants the same things for all people in South Africa.

Because we can’t seem to agree on what needs to be done to ensure that no one gets left behind as South Africa moves into the future, divisive narratives can easily take root and flourish.

From the Gatvol movement in the Western Cape to Zulu nationalists, fringe groups balked at the idea of the collective South African project in the run-up to the elections. Some may say the political indifference and resentment is understandable.

And while these voices shouted their discontent at inequality from the side lines, others cried out "double standard" at the notion of doing away with statues and flags that glorified a past that dehumanised the majority of this country’s people.

The fact that people feel comfortable fighting to defend their right to brandish an apartheid era flag but will not lift a finger to fight the injustices they continue to benefit from speaks for itself.

There are too many men who are more concerned with shielding their egos from terms like "trash" but never have a hint of indignation to offer when wage inequality, femicide and rape culture are allowed to flourish in South African homes around the country.

What I am trying to say is that people have a habit of unwittingly exposing what they hold contempt for based on what they defend and guard fervently. Why does a flag mean more to some people than ending poverty caused by over a century of land deprivation?

South Africa is moving into its future, and the future does not have the time to nurse the egos of privileged people who consider equality to be oppression. Know this and remember it well: you have no right to expect to be taken seriously by black people, if your views erase their humanity.

Thin veils

These troubling world views often hide behind thin veils such as hatred for corruption, contempt at slow service delivery and the righteous indignation of taxpayers forced to "carry the poor masses on their backs".

The gaslighting and brinkmanship with which they argue their points gives anyone engaging with them the perception that such aversion to compromise makes a better collective future for all South Africans impossible. In their eyes, if you are not preserving white privilege, you are absolutely oppressing whiteness, and there is no in-between.

I got a chance to speak to newly elected Western Cape Premier Alan Winde about the tone of South Africa’s political discourse ahead of and during the election. He lamented what he saw as "more and more South Africans turning away from the idea of the rainbow nation".

I truly believe he was sincere when he said that. However, over him looms the shadow of his predecessor, a person who is a huge part of the reason why many South Africans, black and white, don’t believe in the rainbow nation anymore.


GOOD Party leader Patricia De Lille's inclusion in Cabinet was a heartening reminder of how politicians of different political persuasions can pull together towards a common goal.

Granted, party politics and balancing executive power were a huge part of the reason why President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Cabinet he did at the Union Buildings on Wednesday evening.

He is not the first president to appoint an opposition MP to a government department. Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi served as a home affairs minister under former president Nelson Mandela and former president Thabo Mbeki.

Even former president Jacob Zuma appointed National Freedom Party leader Zanele Magwaza Msibi as deputy minister of science and technology, although, admittedly, deputy ministers are not part of Cabinet.

But the symbolic significance is that it underscores how our leaders can work together for the common good with a little bit of maturity. I’m just saying.

Khulekani Magubane is senior financial reporter at Fin24. Views expressed are his own. 

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