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The unwelcome truth of the Rainbow Nation

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Image: African News Agency (ANA) File – As South Africa’s leaders and citizens celebrate Freedom Day, the Rainbow Nation is on the verge of financial, infrastructural, reputational, social and moral collapse, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

Today, almost 30 years after political freedom was won, South Africa is severely damaged and broken. As its leaders and citizens celebrate Freedom Day, the Rainbow Nation is on the verge of financial, infrastructural, reputational, social and moral collapse.

It is easy and not entirely incorrect to blame the terrible state of the nation on the horribly inefficient implementation of the ANC’s socio-economic policies, its devastating leadership deficiencies and the ever-creep of its corrupt ways.

But there is a more fundamental problem, which ordinary South African citizens have failed to face up to for almost three decades now, and which leaders of the governing party brush aside as one does an inconvenient or unwelcome pest.

The inconvenient and unwelcome truth is that most, if not all, of today’s economic, social and moral ills are attributable to the fact that our rainbow reconciliation failed to disrupt and dislodge illicit economic white power and economic dominance.

It was this illicit white power that structurally engineered the pandemic of black economic disempowerment, landlessness and poverty, over the last three hundred years, as well as the wholesale stripping of economic wealth and sovereignty of the nation.

It is because we have never properly tried to remedy these historical injustices that the South Africa of today is the world’s most unequal country. White and black South Africans literally live in two different nations, in a liberatory phantasm which has revealed itself to be little more than apartheid of a special type.

Millions of black families whose fates and fortunes were cruelly pruned by land theft and the violence of racial oppression have yet to find release from the total onslaught of historical racism and discrimination.

The cruel history of centuries of white rule continues to weigh heavily on the daily lives of black South Africans. The reality of 29 years of political “freedom” is that today black South Africans remain in chains.

While apartheid may have officially ended, and black South Africans “freed” from the heavy racial legislative restrictions of the previous regime, white power and privilege remains supreme in the Rainbow Nation.

Four years ago I wrote, “Through the ages, white supremacy has fed her own with the obsessive-compulsive devotion that only a mother knows. White power and privilege have been nursed on the umbilical cord of black pain, for generations in South Africa. Today, almost twenty-five years into democracy, the milk of white supremacy continues to flow freely across the nation sustaining white prosperity while millions of black mothers wake to the everyday ache of an impoverished new dawn, unable to nourish their new-borns.”

Four years later as the Rainbow Nation enters its 29th year, the colour of poverty is still black, and wealth almost as lily-white as it was in the blood-red of apartheid. The democracy of the Rainbow Nation is horribly discoloured by patterns of historical inequalities, racial economic dispossession, and socio-cultural dislocation.

Since it came into power, the ANC government has placed social cohesion high on its political programme at the expense of social and economic justice. Accountability and reparations for historical ills and crimes of humanity against black South Africans have been largely ignored.

The Rainbow Nation consciousness has puffed up and super-sized white privilege, entitlement, and arrogance. This is a direct consequence of the ANC’s political posture of not disrupting white power in democratic South Africa. And as always black South Africans have paid the cost. The majority have remained dirt poor and without prospect.

There is deep sorrow in the national cheer for a freedom that has yet to be won. There is intolerable cruelty in the ANC’s manipulation of people’s patient belief and hope that democracy would mean a better life, and in the governing party’s plethora of broken promises. And there is a bitter and immeasurable betrayal in the ANC’s prioritisation of white interests over the wellbeing of black South Africans.

For the many top black professionals who had hoped to find equity of opportunity in a democratic order, they find themselves overlooked and disillusioned in a society where whiteness trumps blackness, even when it is less qualified and able.

There is an indescribable, unspoken agony of black students whose hard work and exemplary performance can never be quite enough in a world adjudicated by whiteness, and in the chocked chord of a job candidate whose elementary enunciation of English is an immediate disqualification.

There is also a horror in the lack of humanity of white South Africans who have found great shelter in the Rainbow Nation, without little or no concern or consideration about the level of deep discomfort of black South Africans who have remained uncomfortable on the peripheries of their own country not only economically but socially and culturally.

White South Africans have done little to contribute to a democratic society, where equity and justice for the majority of South Africans replace minority privilege and power.

Many years ago I wrote “White South Africans pedestrian-pass black poverty on the fringes of ‘our’ suburbs as if this poverty is not our business. Yet the welts of poverty and inequality in our post-democracy panorama, is the work of apartheid and colonial plunder”.

I wrote too that “As white South Africans, we have yet to step forward, in a collective burst of ethical consciousness, to facilitate the return of land and wealth, stolen by our forefathers through force, not facilitation. We have not shed many white tears for the black pain we have caused or cried over the millions of dreams we have shattered in this country. We have never marched for the fundamental re-engineering and transformation of our structurally racist economy, rather we have sanctioned and thrived on the executive pay package of apartheid and colonial plunder, without any protest. We have enjoyed the comfort zone of privilege without crying out, in outrage, about the open pits of poverty that mock the very face of our democracy.”

South Africa is no prized democracy, especially for black South Africans. The “miracle nation” of 1994 was nothing more than a ray of deception. One that tried to conceal the storm damage of apartheid and colonialism behind a rainbow of hope. Unless we face the unwelcome truths of our past, and of justice and liberation undone, and fix this, the storm of racial inequality will collapse us all.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions