No, the South African Rainbow isn’t dead

SLATING the rainbow nation narrative has turned into a media cottage industry. If it is not the economics of equality which have put paid to the notion, then it is student revolt on campus, or lectures such as: The rainbow nation is a lie.

According to its critics, the rainbow nation is no more.

After the death of Nelson Mandela, the rainbow nation has lost hope, and the myth of a rainbow nation stands on precarious ground.

As South Africa stands on the brink of a recession, with a devaluation of the Rand, calls for a renewal of Rainbow Nation 2.0, signal that we need to seriously re-evalute the term, unpicking the meaning of the phrase, since clearly the Rainbow Nation, synonymous with the legacy of South Africa’s founder, Nelson Mandela, is a crucial ingredient to our future success.

Firstly, the many assumptions made by most persons about the Rainbow Nation, need to be understood for what they are, wishful thinking, a bucket list of demands, hopes and dreams. The birth of a nation comprised of many different ethnicities, was never meant to be plain sailing. There was never any guarantee that we would achieve all our goals in the short space of two decades.

If we thought we could escape by being some kind of exception, South Africa’s obsession with race during apartheid, merely turned into yet another obsession with race over the past decade. The tension between the haves and have-nots was bound to bubble over. The weakness of the Rand is evidence of our own weakness.

We would not be here if we were not a nation capable of reflection and self-evaluation.

Something important got lost along the way. What is it? Was the Rainbow Nation ever meant to be about race?

Is the Rainbow Nation about the colour of ones skin, or the colour of ones rights?

Consider the following.  LGBT rights are encapsulated in South Africa’s Bill of Rights. We could as easily have adopted the rainbow flag associated with these rights instead of the brightly coloured cloth that looks uncannily like someone’s drawers, our national underpants or under-garment flying from a flag pole at rugby matches.

The Rainbow Nation thus also refers to a set of values, rights, and freedoms.

Freedoms such as press freedom, The right to Assembly, demonstrate, picket and petition; Freedom of expression, Freedom and security of the person, the right to privacy; Freedom of religion, belief and opinion; Freedom of association; Freedom of movement and residence; Freedom of trade, occupation and profession; Labour Rights; Environmental Rights; Children’s Rights; Housing Rights; Cultural and Linguistic Rights, and many other rights.

The Rainbow Nation is greater than the sum of its parts, a way of explaining these rights and freedoms to our youth and especially our children.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Bill of Rights, we may just find that re-committing ourselves to constitutionalism and democracy, entails a rethinking of the Rainbow Nation, a nation built upon Rights and Freedoms, and not simply ethnicity and race.

When taken into consideration, the Rainbow Nation, along with its Bill of Rights, and Mandela legacy, is an extremely radical and revolutionary idea, one that we dump at our peril.

Op-Ed published by the Cape Times, 17 September 2015

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