A rain­bow na­tion in pieces

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Du Preez

Is it a good or a bad thing to stir the racial pot in south Africa?

The public ar­gu­ments around sym­bol­ism, his­tory and racism the last few weeks have brought out the worst in white and black par­tic­i­pants.

But per­haps it is part of a cathar­sis that we haven’t prop­erly ex­pe­ri­enced since lib­er­a­tion 21 years ago — the price we’re pay­ing for a smooth tran­si­tion to democ­racy.

I think we have to ac­cept that the dream of a rain­bow na­tion now lies in pieces at our feet.

If this Man­dela/tutu con­cept could not with­stand the test of time, isn’t it time for it to dis­ap­pear so that we can build some­thing else in its place? Is it time for a par­a­digm shift?

It was thor­oughly de­press­ing, though, to see oth­er­wise rea­son­able peo­ple with­draw into racial trenches from where they at­tacked and de­fended their own “group”. It’s as if we haven’t made any progress since 1994 in get­ting to know each other’s fears, frus­tra­tions and anger.

Harsh, hurt­ful words were ex­changed the last few weeks. My first re­ac­tion was that it did more dam­age than good and sim­ply hard­ened at­ti­tudes. Or did it?

It is crys­tal clear that there is an im­mense reser­voir of black anger and im­pa­tience at the sta­tus quo. On the white side there is a groundswell of frus­tra­tion at re­main­ing the tar­get of all re­sent­ment so long af­ter the for­mal end of apartheid.

Many black voices ar­gue that the so­cial and eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment in the coun­try is still dom­i­nated by the tiny white mi­nor­ity. It is as ex­pe­ri­enced as a ba­sic injustice, an as­sault on black dig­nity and pride and a mes­sage that they’re still re­garded as in­fe­rior.

Many de­clare that this can be blamed on the white com­mu­nity’s racism, ar­ro­gance and re­sis­tance to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

some take it a bit fur­ther and say that all sym­bols of white his­tory be­fore 1994 should be de­stroyed and their wealth be re­dis­tributed.

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Few white voices have shown any un­der­stand­ing of th­ese frus­tra­tions of dreams de­ferred.

And then they do ex­actly what re­in­forces the prej­u­dices against them: they make sar­cas­tic com­ments about Africa and her peo­ple’s fail­ures and rub the achieve­ments of the so-called Euro­pean civil­i­sa­tions un­der black noses. And so the vi­cious cy­cle con­tin­ues.

I was shocked re­cently at this white in­sen­si­tiv­ity and ar­ro­gance, even if it is true that it is a re­sult of fear and ig­no­rance. It re­ally ap­pears as if they be­lieve that now that the po­lit­i­cal power has shifted from white to black, noth­ing else has to change.

But I’m also sur­prised how few black voices are pre­pared to pub­licly ad­mit that we would not have had to­day’s po­larised con­ver­sa­tions if the ANC gov­ern­ments since 1994 had gov­erned with more vi­sion and ef­fi­ciency and with less cor­rup­tion, pri­vate em­pire build­ing, nepo­tism and wast­ing of re­sources.

Dur­ing the weeks that th­ese de­bates were rag­ing, news­pa­pers were full of re­ports about gross cor­rup­tion in gov- ern­ment, ma­nip­u­la­tion of in­sti­tu­tions of our democ­racy, bil­lions spent on air­craft and su­per luxury ve­hi­cles for politi­cians, a com­plete dis­re­gard by politi­cians and civil ser­vants for or­di­nary peo­ple in town­ships and squat­ter camps, and a re­minder of what hap­pened dur­ing the Marikana Massacre.

And yet the fo­cus was solely on white priv­i­lege and in­tran­si­gence.

As some­one tweeted this week, and I thought it was a le­git­i­mate point to raise: “If stat­ues are sym­bols of op­pres­sion, what is dys­func­tional hos­pi­tals, mud schools, col­lapsed wa­ter and elec­tric­ity in­fra­struc­ture?”

But I can un­der­stand why it could be dif­fi­cult for many black peo­ple to ad­mit to white coun­ter­parts that the black-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment was fail­ing. There is a good Afrikaans ex­pres­sion for this: skaam-kwaad. A mix­ture of shame and anger.

some voices — it was all over Face­book and Twit­ter — then went one step fur­ther: you whites are for­eign­ers, you don’t be­long here. shut up and go away or we’ll make you. sigh.

The voices of the wild and ir­ra­tional ones among us will be loud­est in the days ahead.

The ground is fer­tile for the mush­room­ing of the EFF and its ilk.

The voices of rea­son on all sides will have to work much harder to be heard over the shout­ing. Emo­tional over-re­ac­tions will be counter-pro­duc­tive.

It turns out we were not a rain­bow na­tion af­ter all. Per­haps we should bor­row a term from the long-time for­mer mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek — with­out judg­ing his pol­i­tics or le­gacy of course.

Kollek once said his dream for his trou­bled and di­vided city was to be a mo­saic of dif­fer­ent cul­tures where the ten­sion is be­nign and in­vig­o­rat­ing and not threat­en­ing to de­stroy the city.

Per­haps the best we can do for now is to be just a mo­saic na­tion. But we should never aban­don the noble dream of one day achiev­ing that elu­sive ideal of a non-racial so­ci­ety

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