I have recently learned of a home video that has destroyed the myth of South Africa as a “Rainbow Nation”. Sometime during last month, a group of white Afrikaner students filmed themselves forcing some elderly black people to eat food that they had urinated in. They also gave the black people bottles of beer, which they were forced to gulp down before being told to perform athletic feats to show their physical prowess, being black and all.
Though the video is said to have been circulating for almost a month, I have not seen it and it is unlikely that I will. I heard about it from a South African colleague who appeared greatly ashamed by the whole thing, I think he felt by telling me he was somehow distancing himself from the students. Absolution through confession, so to say. He did, however, take the opportunity to complain that there was nothing rainbow about the rainbow nation, as it has obviously left out some of its citizens, namely the white ones.
The students, who are residents of a whites only hostel, say they made the video in protest against the proposed integration of university living accommodation. Regardless of their reasons for making the video I must say the fact that they thought this was a valid form of protest speaks volumes about their upbringing, and about attitudes towards racial equality in South Africa, fourteen years after the official end of apartheid.
The video is the climax of several events highlighting the racial tensions in South Africa, including a shooting spree by a young white man in a township that resulted in the death of several black people, including women and a child. Then, off course, there was the famous lion feeding, where a white farmer and his three black employees beat a black man and threw his body to some lions. The blacks claimed to have been under the instructions of their employer. And finally the “black only” meeting of journalists which Jacob Zuma, current ANC president widely tipped to lead the country when Thabo Mbeki steps down in 2009, happily attended and stated that he saw nothing wrong with. He has alo been quoted as saying that South Africans should realise that sometimes people want to be with people with whom they share experiences, a comment which has had the majority of White South Africans predicting the end of the “Rainbow Nation” policy.
From all this it may be inferred that the South Africans have been living a lie for all these years. Their Rainbow Nation is a sham. The resentment on both sides, that Nelson Mandela attempted to alleviate through the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, is understandable.
The blacks, oppressed for decades on their ancestral lands by people who only began to call themselves Africans in the last century, are resentful for all the pain and suffering, the lost opportunities. They are also resentful towards the continued superior attitude of some of the white people as well as the fact that those that they view as the aristocrats of the ANC, many who are from the Xhosa tribe rather than the majority Zulus, have not given them the prosperity that they expected. The whites are resentful of what they call reverse racism, the advent of Black empowerment enterprises and affirmative action. Many feel that the blacks have stolen the country that they built out of nothing and protected against the failures of other African countries such as inherent corruption, poverty and illness.
How do you reconcile a country that has been split along racial lines for over a centaury? Clearly not by sweeping peoples pain under the nearest carpet. The “hug each other” approach has failed to address the inherent racism that continues to be passed from generation to generation in some sections of society. This “we are all the same” policy has also been embraced in France, where one is French before one’s ethnicity and one is expected to let go of one’s original cultural heritage. The policy, which has been the pride of France for many years, has had devastating effects on young immigrants who would like to be allowed to pursue their individuality. And 2005 and 2006 there were riots in the banlieues of Paris showcasing their frustration. Their plight showcases the classic Orwellian theme; they may all be French but some are more so than others. Despite the current calm they continue to feel excluded. As do the children of British immigrants who may shortly be forced to take part in "Britishness cermonies" that undermine thier sense of themselves.
And in South Africa we see the frustrations of the young whites cause them to flee their country, seeking citizenship in their ancestral homelands. Many take advantage of German, Dutch and English ancestors to begin new lives in the EU, away from country that has been taken from them. A few of these bring their prejudices with them, but they are better suited to life in countries where non-whites are minorities.
The young blacks who cannot flee or take advantage of the new opportunities presented to them due to lack of education, a hangover from the apartheid days, or proper guidance, as a result of the growing number of adults dying of AIDS, the frustration manifest themselves in criminal activities and violence, with gangs of young men going about “jack rolling” (“recreational” gang rape), committing murder and staging armed robberies in an attempt to get what they view as a piece of the pie.
So what is the solution? There are several things that have been suggested, such as an improvement of the education of the elderly black South Africans, who are seen as a vulnerable group, as well as the younger ones, structured accelerated land reform policy as previously promised, a system of welfare payments that allows people to re-educate themselves and gives them money so that they are not drawn to crime, harsher penalties for rape and other violent crime.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, though these measures would improve that quality of life of many of the citizens, it will not make them like each other or create the understanding between peoples that is required in this country of many ethnicities and that, it seems, is the biggest problem.