Is there still time for a real Rainbow Nation?

South Africa is about to have another election. But we’re stuck in the same rut, and probably will be for some time. I think we need to go back to the old dream of a Rainbow Nation – distinct (not separate) colours all emanating together from one Light.

The truth is, our current system of democracy is failing.

And despite finding Julius Malema to be an exceptionally dangerous figure for South Africa, I have come to basically agree with his analysis of what Mandela, De Klerk, Mbeki, and Ramaphosa got wrong when they formed the New South Africa.

At the time, we were told we would become a rainbow nation, with eleven official languages, and cultural preservation and enrichment. Instead we find ourselves a fragmented nation with no real culture, losing at the game of globalisation.

This will be the case no matter the results of next week’s elections. But we might be able to save South Africa if we look at the flaws of the entire constitutional order rather than thinking the DA can provide a technocratic solution, the EFF a socialist paradise, and Ramaphosa some kind of idealised and messianic ANC to restore the so-called Madiba Magic.

Let’s go back to some important events prior to the 1994 elections and the 1996 Constitution.

Just before the 1994 elections, various power brokers had to convince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP and Constand Viljoen’s Freedom Front to participate in the election, and thus legitimate the elections as a genuine process amongst the cultural groups who looked to their leadership.

To some extent, both had already been discredited by some of the shadowy violence committed by Afrikaner extremists and within the ANC/IFP war in the early 1990s. Nobody ever really got to the bottom of these strange events which, along with Chris Hani’s assassination, definitely helped pave a path to an ANC-led neo-liberal South Africa, with Big Business still in power.

Intriguingly, despite the vast power held by both Viljoen and Buthelezi, who had swathes of personal support prior to the election, politically they soon became non-entities in Parliament, and even in KwaZulu-Natal, in which the IFP initially won a majority.

We all tend to believe that elections reflect the will of the people. They don’t. Did you ever consent to the choices on your ballot? Do you control the media framing of each electoral event? Of course you don’t.

I think this happened to Buthelezi and Viljoen. And I think Malema does partly provide us with an answer.

Malema claims the ANC got the constitutional negotiations wrong. Now, I don’t think he necessarily has the right solutions, but I think his basic ideas are founded on some real truth.

It’s no secret that the Ruperts and Oppenheimers were big players in convincing De Klerk to unban the ANC and begin the process of regime change in South Africa.

It’s also no secret that the ANC soon abandoned its most radical socialist policies as those same titans of global corporatism introduced Mandela, Mbeki, and Ramaphosa to the world of Davos economics, the post-Cold War New World Order, described by George H. W. Bush as “a world of open borders, open trade and, most importantly, open minds”.

And so we adopted a Proportional Representation system of voting, which gave elite party bosses ultimate power of the country. We opened our markets to the likes of Chinese textiles, and crippled our national industries. We adopted a monstrous combination of big government economics and global elite free trade. We grew our economy and our pension funds, but not jobs.

And we basically lost most of our official languages and the cultures underlying them.

Could we have taken a different path? Is that path still available? And could that path avoid the champagne socialism of high-living leaders like Malema and Floyd Shivambu?

I think there is. I think we need to think again about Buthelezi and Viljoen.

You can’t have a Rainbow Nation without a spectrum of colours.

Think of the plight of the Khoisan. Their chief has been encamped at the Union Buildings for months (with very little media attention), pleading for some kind of nationhood.

Malema once said white South African do belong here – we’re like the jacaranda tree now! He has also said, despite his bombastic and chilling public rhetoric, that much of his radicalism is an opening position to a new negotiation of a different kind of South Africa.

Here is what I think. The DA and the ANC are simply a dialectic of mass, atomistic politics which alienates people and has been shown to fail the working classes.

We need instead a new kind of nationalism suggested by the fringe parties of the IFP, the UDM, the Freedom Front, and, to a certain extent, yes, the EFF.

We need a country with cultures that respect their own histories and each other, who understand that we all have blood on our hands (for example, the Mfecane and the Boer War was far more violent than the admittedly brutal systematised apartheid regime). Then we can fruitfully discuss land, labour and a human-centred market system of economics that puts our people first. That is what cultures do – they give you a chance at forming a state that does not operate as mere business entities for connected elite, but looks to build consensus between peoples who have their own roots and concerns, and are not just electoral fodder.

Such a Rainbow Nation will require a new kind of leadership altogether. For that, perhaps all we can do now is pray.