A New South Africa?

Well, I am going to come across as cynical here, but I do not buy into the “new South Africa” narrative our country has going on. In fact, I believe this whole “Rainbow Nation” feel-good slogan to be a complete and utter farce and, as such, have grown to detest it as well other terminology related to it (think “reconciliation”, “ubuntu” and so forth).

These terms, particularly “reconciliation”, imply the coming together of and compromising between two or more previously opposed factions. South African reality does not reflect this, though; rather, we see more concession on the part of black people while white people get to keep their apartheid spoils guilt-free. Instead of being institutionalised, “the new South Africa” is an idea used by happy-clappy, usually “colour-blind” (haha!) people to try and silence the grievances of the less-than-happy.

This new South Africa is one in which pearls are clutched and car doors still locked in haste when a black person is approaching. In which black people are verbally and physically attacked simply for walking and minding their own business… while black.

A new South Africa in which poverty is an inconvenience to those walking by with change in their pockets, and is attributed to laziness rather than historical injustices. And, even worse, in which efforts to rectify these injustices are called “unfair” and “racist”.

A new South Africa in which a significant portion of my family still lives in cheap, unstable housing without running water, electricity or flushable toilets. In which they still wake up to the view of mud houses in Bizana and shacks in Gugulethu rather than the Waterfront. In which friends and cousins, whose parents never acquired degrees, are unable to go to tertiary institutions like the rest of us.

A new South Africa in which those striking for their rights are cropped into an “uncivilised”, “undignified” and “criminal” narrative rather than that of people fighting to survive. In which they are shot at and killed by those supposed to protect them, their deaths unnoticed and unprotested.

Shall I continue?

The point is that despite our regime shift, not much has changed, and this should not be hushed by unproductive soothe-saying and propaganda. Rather, as Said argued in 1993 when writing about the facade of the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements, we should acknowledge where and what we truly are: an old South Africa with a new face.

Burying our heads in the sand has not and will never work. It is in actually acknowledging our social and structural problems that true progress can actually begin.


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