The dream of the Rainbow Nation is history, not our reality
- Zoe Mafoko
- 28 Jul 2017 12:58 (South Africa)
With the country stifled by a tension so tangibly palpable one could taste it, out walked Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela with raised, fisted arms and smiles on their faces, the picture of serenity and calm. It was glorious, it was unprecedented and something no Hollywood blockbuster could ever dream to recreate.
No war. There would be no war.
Instead there would be peace. There would be acceptance and forgiving. There would be reconciliation and nation building. There would be recovery and rebuilding. There would be moving forward as one nation.
Everybody loved this plan. The press lapped it up and it made front-page news, foreign countries heralded South Africa as some miracle baby and South Africans – they fell for the dream hook, line and sinker. They, along with the rest of the world were captured by the idea of a rainbow nation. Enraptured at the thought of how everything would suddenly change overnight because apartheid had been formally illegalised on paper.
But everything didn’t change – that’s what we, the born frees and millennial children, know. We learn in classrooms, history books and textbooks all about this democratic project and how we, as a generation, stand on the shoulders of giants, who, we are taught, did things unimaginable and made sacrifices unbelievable for this country.
So, is the idea of the rainbow nation, of Nelson Mandela and the dream of South Africa relevant to us born frees today? South Africans have relived Mandela’s dream of unity for an entire 67 minutes on July 18. Inevitably we heard speeches from politicians who have eroded the dream with their corruption and self-serving mentalities, preaching this vision ad nauseam. People made donations of all sorts, volunteered in all kinds of places and made frequent use of the #MandelaDay and the #67Minutes hashtags. And for one day or at least 67 minutes of people’s days, Mandela’s dream materialised before it quickly disintegrated again.
As born frees, we are told that we can do anything, be anything and dare to dream in ways unimaginable. Because we are born free.
But from where we stand, the dream is failing the nation.
We sit in history classrooms which breed and fester animosity because as a generation, we either have parents who try not to think too hard about our history or parents who are bitter because they are still dealing with the effects of our history – be they social or economic. These attitudes manifest themselves on us and become apparent in our open spaces.
These attitudes are apparent when we are in lecture room and a black student calls a white student “Hitler” or when white students walk out of an open space because they don’t want to engage in the conversation around transformation.
We live in a nation where the dream was to move forward as one united nation. And yet there are divisions. Because as born frees, we either grew up coming from old money, coming from families which were huge financial beneficiaries of the democratic project, coming from middle class families which were manufactured by the apartheid government or coming from families which have been struggling financially whether it be under apartheid or under this new democracy.
The dream was for us to be a rainbow nation. A nation which acknowledged the diversities of its people and embraced them as something beautiful and as something which made us, as a nation, all the more better. But, here we are today still battling issues of racism and classism – where black girls are ostracised at school because of their hair, where a white child calls her black school mates k****r or where university students brandish far right posters.
We live in a nation where the dream was to make education and learning available and accessible to all and yet today we are still talking issues of decolonizing the education system. Only this year, did universities such as the University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch and the University of the Free State, under court order, begin the process of making their lectures more accessible to students by offering them in English as well the traditional Afrikaans. The #FeesMustFall movement has shown in graphically just how inaccessible education in South Africa actually is.
We see a state which wants to challenge “white monopoly capital” with what appears to be veering into what many see as “black monopoly capital”. We see that within the 23 years of democracy, not much has been done to assist those who bought into the dream the most. Those trapped in poverty. Instead we see the gap between the rich and the poor growing wider while the state who appears to be losing touch with the people who placed them in their position of power in the first place.
Is this the dream of South Africa? Is this the nation which was envisaged in the beginning of the country’s democracy?
If this is it, we want nothing to do with it. I want nothing to do with it.
We want a real change – a closing of the gap between the rich and the poor, better service delivery, a government that actually cares and listens to us, quality education and a bridging of class and racial divisions. We want a government that knows how to implement and maintain projects which they start. We want independent institutions which are uninfluenced by the politics of the country and we want real systems run by independent bodies to ensure a policy of checks and balances within state dealings in order to minimize corruption and ensure the system of the separation of powers.
If we can’t be offered all of this, then what Nelson Mandela and all of the heroes of our past stood for, is redundant. Because while the dream might mean a lot to us as born frees, it is the action to materialise the dream which means more.
We as born frees are often called impatient. But 23 years, and a whole lot of talking is also a lot of inaction. Therefore, if this dream is supposed to stay relevant to us new kids, we’re going to need to start seeing some real activity.
For now, the dream is fading into a long forgotten, pleasant memory of the past, taught to us in history. DM