The end of the rainbow nation

Over the years, the fairy tale of the rainbow nation has quickly faded and I couldn’t be happier for it.

Let me explain. I was born in 1988, so I was among the first of the young ones to grow up in the promised land. At some point, we were called the born-frees, until the real born-frees arrived in 1994.

Throughout my upbringing, there was a glaring disconnect between this dream we had been lucky enough to be born into, and the lingering violence and architecture of the system we tried to numb with Tata raising the rugby World Cup trophy with Francois Pienaar, the euphoria of being the centre of the world during the 2010 soccer World Cup and, most recently, Rolene Strauss becoming Miss World.

It seemed as if we lived for the Castle Lager ad with its backing track of Toto’s Africa, while there was still plenty of violence to contend with. But saying this was tantamount to being an ungrateful brat, despite having never said it all was bad.

It delights me because, hopefully, we realise how complicated life in contemporary South Africa is and, hopefully, we are making the connections.

We’ve come to the end of the rainbow and we are now living in the grey. This life of going to “decent” schools (one of the biggest symbols of being free) and working in corporate spaces, while enduring violence against our names, our languages, our hair and, ultimately, ourselves.

Of education that still leaves so many out, while giving opportunities to many.

Of racism that does not come packaged as a bearded white man in a khaki safari suit and brown boots on a horse, but remains insidious – in restaurants, gyms, Gautrain stations, schools, suburban streets and Facebook groups. How we aren’t just xenophobic, but actually Afrophobic.

Of fully internalising that Nelson Mandela couldn’t “save” Zelda la Grange because it wasn’t his job to do so, and how “transformation” remains the work of black people. Of dealing with how anti-racism has also coddled patriarchy and violent masculinities.

Of how it is possible to have the good story of millions immeasurably better off than they were 21 years ago, while also appreciating that “freedom” has not been absolute (and those that “made it” continue to be the exception rather than the rule), or even complete.

We have a story with some good and bad bits. Our place in it is complicated and we must confront why the gritty truth of lives different to ours upsets some of us so much, and what investment we have left in the rainbow nation fairy tale.

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