OPINION | Joe Kitchen: There may not be a rainbow nation, but we could try patch together a quilt

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Singer Joe Kitchen wearing his favourite poncho. (Supplied)
Singer Joe Kitchen wearing his favourite poncho. (Supplied)

Perhaps, one day, we will realise that, instead of a rainbow, our country is a quilt and instead of following one big hero, we will have a lot of small people working together, striving together to make Mzansi work, writes Joe Kitchen.


There is no doubt about it - there is a general mood of despair in South Africa right now.

It's getting harder and harder to manage our money affairs these days with rising prices, dwindling resources and challenging working environments. Load shedding is not going away. We see beggars standing at every traffic light, holding fast to their cardboard signs proclaiming their poverty and misery while desperately trying to make eye contact with people behind the steering wheels of their cars. The news headlines scream out the dreadful tidings of random shootings, lost children, farm murders, deadly protests, and an economy in free fall.

This is such a far cry from the delirium most of us felt in the mid-nineties, when we were entranced by the idea of a "rainbow nation" and when we trusted Nelson Mandela's message of reconciliation. 

It is, sadly, also a far cry from the brief flickering-up of what journalists called "Ramaphoria" in 2018 and 2019.

Pinning our hopes and dreams on one person

Come to think of it, Ramaphoria was a strange phenomenon indeed, speaking of a time when we pinned all our hopes and dreams on a single person. Was that healthy? Was it realistic? How could we ever expect this one magical leader to lead us single-handedly out of the dark epoch of state capture into the bright "new dawn" of a functional country?

We know now that Cyril is probably a skelm like the rest of them. Or, if not quite as bad as Zuma, just a human being like all of us. What were we thinking when we elevated this man to the status of a god anyway?

Whereas Madiba represented a cultural transformation, Ramaphosa became, to traumatised and shell-shocked South Africans, exactly what De la Rey was to the Afrikaners during the Second Boer War.

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Of course, Ramaphoria didn't last. It simply could not. There's a paradox here. Perhaps we are finally waking up to the reality of things as they really are, and not the reality of what we hope things are like. 

I call it a 'paradox' because it seems, even in these turbulent times, that many South Africans, despite the general sense of despair, are also entertaining some degree of optimism. It is not the optimism based on some grand scheme or new ideology but a more down-to-earth kind of optimism that is rooted in common sense. 

More and more, we are seeing ordinary people, here and there, doing extraordinary things. Civilians are tarring roads. Some of our sportspeople are doing astonishing things, making us proud. Hardly a day goes by without at least one feel-good story somewhere in the news, hidden among all the tales of terror, angst and agony.

And strange new alliances are forming, folk are reaching out to one another in unheard-of ways.

Tired of the hate

So it was that, a week or two ago, I found myself in a private Twitter conversation with someone whom I once detested - Kallie Kriel of Afri-Forum (ja, die einste). We were careful to avoid certain topics, of course. Like Max du Preez recently, I have found myself liking some of the initiatives taken by people like Afriforum and Solidarity. That doesn't mean I agree with everything they stand for (I have a feeling their LGBTQIA+ footprint might be rather small). But hell, I'm tired of hating everyone who does not exactly subscribe to my own views.

Only later, after we had concluded our conversation, did I realise it took place on the 18 July -  Madiba Day. 

How extremely weird was THAT?

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This might be where the solution might lie to the problems in our country. In uneasy coalitions, strange collaborations, people reaching out to other people because there is no other option.

And, so, eventually, instead of arriving at some marvellous and exalted destination like the fiction we used to call "the rainbow nation" or riding off into the fabled sunset of Ramaphosa's "new dawn", we might find ourselves, almost accidentally stumbling into the light clumsily and haphazardly, making numerous mistakes along the way, yet surviving. 

Well, that's what I hope for, at least. I hate to admit that it's the only hope I have, but at least it might be doable.

We are not really a rainbow nation, nor will we ever be, nor have we ever been that. 

Making our quilt

I have an old quilt which I use as a poncho. It was made for me by a friend years ago. It was painstakingly stitched together from numerous pieces of wool and other material. It is a ragged, slightly smelly thing, but I often wear it on stage because I really love that thing.

Perhaps, one day, we will realise that, instead of a rainbow, our country is a quilt. Instead of following one big hero, we will have a lot of small people working together, striving together to make Mzansi work.

That might not be the great outcome we had envisaged, but at least making a South African quilt would be preferable to the anarchy of a failed state.    

- Joe Kitchen is a South African musician, singer, songwriter and writer who sometimes goes by the name of Koos Kombuis, André Letoit and/or André le Roux du Toit.

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.


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