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Post-apartheid South Africa, following the negotiations and settlements made from 1990-1994 during CODESA, is a country forged and continuously run on a number of dizzying inaccuracies, half-truths, fallacies and misconceptions covered by a thickening fog of a historical perceptions. Many, if not all, of these illusions have been crafted by the powers that be (the ruling party, monopoly capital, private institutions) to further a view of South Africa, her peoples, the structure of society and economic dispensation, that enables relatively easy conversation with foreign direct investment, other governments and the states that they run as well as international organizations.

Amongst these myths are the genocide against white farmers (this has stood for a while following the transition of government from ‘white’ to ‘black’ in 1994 but has been effortlessly exacerbated by the motion passed by parliament to appropriate land without compensation), the incapacity of ‘blacks’ to adequately make use of the land ( this it seems is backed with Zimbabwe as an example, its conveniently forgotten that  Zimbabwe is riddled with a cosmopolitan of internal and external structural, economic and political issues which led and prolongs the inability to fully utilize the large amounts of farmland), the innate moral vacancy of blacks with regards to the government (as if the socio-political realities whites entrenched through colonialism and apartheid were morally informed) and the one I wish to tackle here, the rainbow nation.

Much like Pinky Pinky, Waar-is-my-kop, and the decrepit old women who would peek through unclosed curtains and attempt to steal the souls of those sleeping , were used to scare girls out of the streets past dark or going to public/school bathrooms alone, terrify overly-trusting, uniformed children into going to bed, or tricking children to promptly close all curtains in the house in the evening (one which still oddly enough haunts me)   the narrative of the rainbow nation is used, largely, to dismiss claims of a state racially unchanged in terms of social-attitudes, and lengthen the shelf-life of a lie that in its vast racial cultural diversity, is unified.

Coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his description of post-apartheid South Africa and further mentioned by former President Nelson Mandela as a nation that is ‘at peace with itself and the world’. However, some 24 years later we know that South Africa is no where near being at peace with its past and that its good standing in the global community is in the eyes of many one of fruits from the negotiated settlement.

I present two issues with the bedtime story if the rainbow nation. The first is the premise on which the rainbow nation is built. This premise is, as alluded to before, that South Africa is a state with an integrated unified racially and culturally diverse population. This is a mass fallacy. It has been shown repeatedly, from teachers making racist remarks, to the unbuffered racist rants spewed on social media platforms, the waving of the old apartheid flag, to the shooting or abusing of farm workers. The spike in public racist incidents (a good amount being initiated by whites) that South Africa’s racial divides not only persist, they thrive. It seems to be, more accurately, that the different racial groups have been largely able to co-exist with one another, although the limitation of co-existence varies as based on economic standing, relation to living conditions/areas and sharing of attitudes and situation.  

It is pretty easy to misconstrue racial social cohesion in environments where individuals share similarities in livelihoods and locations, however this social civility is just that. Civility. It is a result of an upbringing that ideally ingrained one with the abilities to interact with peoples from different races without contempt (visibly at the very least).

The refusal and failure to actively rectify the attitudes, opinions and socio-cultural realities perceptions around other races that backed by the reiteration of racial/cultural stereotypes, misrepresentation of races by media and the far entrenched power/identity relations between races that come to proudly parade themselves as realities. The relationship between race and economic too plays a vital role in the perpetuation of an inability to racially integrate

The second fault I find with the narrative of the rainbow nation is its usage in society. More often then not, the rainbow nation card is hastily brought up to quell ever-increasing tensions between races in South Africa (tension which in all honesty have been mounting since the 1960’s). In the form feel good stories poured all over social-media about interracial co-operation or video’s showing festivities being enjoyed by all races, or, more recognizably (as local political parties kick off campaigning for the 2019 national elections) in slogans and campaigns attempting to garner support from citizens by continuing the tale of South Africa’s ‘color-blind’ growth. The presenting of this veil intentionally shifts focus from the far fractured race relations the state is characterized by. It stands as a quick escape in an attempt to diffuse the ever-throbbing racial friction for the benefit of a white minority. It just as well refuting attempts to deal with structural inequality/ racism and the invalidation of people’s lived experiences by saying ‘but look, we are a multi-colored people, what happened to you is no more important than or multi-hued quilt’

Needlessly, it must be noted that the collapse in the functionality of the ‘rainbow nation’ is the culmination of a number of long standing factors. One being the recent increase in public awareness of race relations and the in conversations (both formal and informal) around race and themes that include Black Consciousness, Whiteness and its accompanying privilege and supremacy. Social media platforms have contributed to race related conversations by allowing individuals to not only express themselves and interact with others on their views on the stark realities of race and race relations but also ironically providing a stage for racist remarks giving brief but well illuminated glimpses at the truths behind the lie of racial cohesion.  

Another is the mounting racial tension that is a result of years of racial prejudices, and structured power-race relations that have not, in any way, been addressed passed surface level. Following the negotiated end of the Apartheid regime and the erection of a new ‘non-racial’ government were programs aimed at the diffusion of long help racial tensions, one such program was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Aimed at the investigation of ‘politically motivated’ human rights violations between 1960 and 1994 the TRC provided amnesty to peoples who fully disclosed in public their involvement in human rights violations, attempting to embrace ‘restorative justice’. Despite the praise the program received for its helping to reveal the worst excesses of apartheid it was not able to achieve long term social reconciliation. The simply granting of amnesty to individuals who perpetrated mass and violent violations and abuses against the black mass of South Africa in no way created an atmosphere of forgiveness and social integration, it instead gave way for the fermenting of hatred and animosity towards the white minority for not only viciously abusing the black majority, but for being allowed to ‘get away’ with the atrocities committed as well as the spoils snatched.  The TRC in truth, has accomplished almost nothing in the 21 odd years since its completion.

The holistically unchanged structure of the South African economy too plays a role in the tearing down of the rainbow nation sand castle. Programs like BEE which looked to rapidly improve the economic standing of the black majority by granting preference to individuals who identified as black for promotions or for executive positions as well as for the receiving of subsidies in the case of small black owned businesses managed only to create a thin layer of black elites while the bulk of the population remained in sweltering poverty. Even this layer has little say in the economic affairs of the state as a bulk of the states economic resources remain in the grubby hands of the white minority. Arguments of an increased black middle class cannot be entertained as this middle class does not have the type of generational wealth to properly sustain it outside of its dependence of debt and state social programs.  

It cannot be disputed that the idea of a rainbow nation, no matter how grand it may have sounded, has in reality turned into the tag-line of ‘non-racialists’ who feel, in their white bred naivety, that the issue or politics of race are not important  and groupings who want to maintain the current racial dispensation as it stands to preserve their interests.

A bedtime story told to hopefuls that outside of the structured racial differences and historically backed race relations that South Africa is indeed a vibrant state of cultures and races that have seamlessly integrated and continue to interact as unified.

Author: Neo Sithole