The romance of reconciliation, on the eve of political liberation in South Africa in 1994, was little more than an airy flirtation with hope, consummated with a ring of deep structural inequality without even a blush of reparation.
It was the promise of economic justice and emancipation for black South Africans but diluted and deferred in the dreamcatcher of the rainbow nation.
Aryan Kaganof, a South African writer and filmmaker, is the author of my favourite quote on the rainbow nation. He penned the following: “The rainbow nation is a white lie, built on black pain.”
He adds, to this verse on the lack of social reconciliation, the following insight: “1994 did not free us, it froze us.”
Last week, the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said during his state of the nation address (Sona) that “we are at a moment in history when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around”.
Ramaphosa spoke of an approaching time of renewal and hope, inspired by the centenary celebrations of the great ANC icons, Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.
He spun his speech on the spokes of hope and in many ways this was a noble seduction.
But for a nation of unrequited expectations around economic redress, redistribution and emancipation, hope can mean heartbreak if hope and promise are not fully rested on a bedrock of tangible and radical momentum.
In this respect, the clarion call for an accelerated radical economic transformation (RET) programme at the ANC’s December conference was an important declaration.
Hope, if unaccompanied, can be a band of betrayal for those caught in the nightmare of everyday poverty and indignity.
The soothing lullaby of social harmony can so easily charm the revolutionary soul of a nation into a liberal slumber – the pillow talk of white power and privilege.
The creed of the rainbow nation, is in my view, a white man’s medicine that is no antidote for a nation still in the embrace of colonialism and apartheid.
In a radio interview this week, I spoke of the need to shut down the rainbow nation, not revive or reverse it – for radical economic transformation has been masterfully captured in the colour-blind rays of reconciliation without reparation.
The president of the African People’s Convention and the standing committee on public accounts chairperson, Themba Godi, said during the Sona debate this week: “The notion of the rainbow nation is a total fallacy. We cannot accept the sugarcoated pill of continued white privilege and domination.
“We cannot live on feel good and baseless hope.
“Hope and change must be measured on how the material condition of the working poor has changed for the better.”
White power and privilege in a “post-democratic” South Africa have seen the crystallisation of black poverty and white wealth in what appears as a perpetual patterning of whiteness across the South African economy and society.
White sovereignty remains master and black South Africans landless subjects in their own country.
This is deeply disturbing, not only because of the pain of the present for the majority of South Africa’s people but because one-day future generations of South Africans may cast their eye upon black poverty and landlessness as if they were natural phenomena, rather than the monster creation of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid.
Ramaphosa said: “We should put all the negativity that has dogged our country behind us because a new dawn is upon us”.
But for many ordinary Black South Africans, dawn is little more than the everyday horizon of hopelessness.
Ramaphosa spoke too of South Africa as a “nation at one”, a romanticisation, in my view, of an unreconciled, unfree South Africa. The real state of the nation is a place of plenty for most whites and a crave of despair for the majority of black South Africans. We are a nation which has never properly tended to its heartbreak.
The structural trauma of colonialism and apartheid remains fixed in contemporary South Africa and will not be dislodged on a harp of hope no matter how tempting and emotionally evocative the sound.
Ramaphosa concluded his Sona with the beautifully poignant lyrics from the late Hugh Masekela: “I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around. When they triumph over poverty… I wanna lend a hand. Send me.”
This was a fitting and beautiful tribute to a true revolutionary.
It was a heartwarming expression of hope quoted by the new president and a powerful message which has found great resonance among many.
Salvation cannot be found in hope. Hope can only be found in salvation. The real work for the new president is to ensure that the rays of radical economic transformation rise as surely and inevitably as a new dawn.
Radical economic transformation must be our only redemption song:
“Old pirates, yes, they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit, but my hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty, we forward in this generation triumphantly.
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? ‘Cause all I ever have.” – Redemption Song, Bob Marley.
Source: The New Age||Kim Heller