Africa is a Rainbow Nation

Richard Poplak penned a brilliant satirical piece for the Guardian Africa Network some two weeks ago in which he exposed the vulture-like nature of the media houses that have taken a morbid interest in Nelson Mandela’s health concerns.
There was anticipation that Mandela would die in recent weeks, with Western media houses all waiting to be the ones to break what will be their biggest story since Princess Diana’s death.
It’s something that can be felt in the air: there is a certain hunger for this big break that will undoubtedly bring in a lot of money for newspapers, radio and television.
The attempts at feigning empathy are falling flat, as ridiculously serious-faced journalists repeat ad nauseum every tiny detail about how Mandela blinked an hour ago.
Let’s face it; these guys are not concerned about Mandela, or South Africa or Africa. They smell blood and they are in for the kill.
But what was of even more interest than Poplak’s satire of the media’s plastic concern was a response to the article by one reader.
The reader said of South Africa, “Yes, it is a Rainbow Nation. In SA, the colours do not mix. They are very separate.
“You will never see a black person at a white person's party and vice-versa. Out in the countryside, there are many towns where restaurants and bars do not let blacks in. Oh, and more than 3 000 white farmers have been murdered by black gangs since 1994.”
This is the reality of not only “Independent” South Africa, but indeed the whole of Africa.
Whether we like it or not, we still live in vastly different worlds. At the top remain those who enhanced their stock by virtue of the colour of their skin during colonialism. They are closely followed by a politically well-connected elite who aspire to be like the former oppressor. And then far down the ladder you get the natives, the sons and daughters of Africa who live on an empty Independence.
The fall of colonialism did not come with a dismantling of its architecture and superstructure. A few blacks were admitted into the ranks of the elite, to eat at the master’s table, while the rest found that nothing had really changed.
The mines remained in the control of the colonial elite, as did the industries, while the white farmer retreated to the laager of his plus-thousand hectare compound far from the cities.
As the Guardian Africa Network reader said, this is a rainbow nation – and in a rainbow the colours do not mix. They remain separate, each one striving to be brighter than the other.
A major reason why colonialism was not dismantled was because, as Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah has stated, “African independence was indeed more handed-down ‘at his master’s pleasure’ than won through hard struggle”.
This is most pronounced in those countries that were colonised by France as can be seen through the various pacts that were signed to keep their economies under the control of Paris. In some instances, people like Laurent Gbagbo woke up to the reality of true independence, but they were so severely compromised by having been in bed with the master so long that they were not difficult to silence.
In other countries, wars were fought and blood was shed. Algeria, Namibia, Angola, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa bear testimony to the brutality of the colonial military. But they fought and overcame.
Unfortunately, in too many cases where wars were fought, a deadening of the liberation senses followed soon after flags and national anthems were secured.
We became comfortable far too quickly with the crumbs of independence that we did not see the bigger cake: the economy.
So today, we remain poor, thinking that we are going to negotiate our way out of poverty and into dignified living. We fear continuing the revolution and driving it to its logical end of economic empowerment.
Doubts fester about our capability to manage our own economies without giving up near-total control to those we had to fight bitterly just to get our own flags.
Those in positions of relative privilege would rather collaborate with the very same system that held them in humiliating bondage for so many decades. Corruption is bred, apathy grows and the hungry get hungrier.
Here and there, voices of discontent pipe up and point out that we are in rainbow nations and the colours are not mixing. These voices are either silenced or are chided to tone down and negotiate for better deals with the former oppressor. We are told to value order more than we should value justice, placing a false peace above all else.
Remember the words of that great American essayist, James Baldwin: “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; Freedom is something that people take and people are as free as they want to be.”

July 2013
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