South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation; it has 11 national languages, and a multicultural society. But how bright is that rainbow?
Rocks amongst scrub land

Just north of Cape Town is an area that could just as easily be in the Australian bush.

Driving along the mostly well maintained highways and back roads of the Western and Eastern Cape regions, it reminds me a lot of home. The coastline with its craggy cliffs and white sandy beaches, and the farming lands lined with eucalyptus trees, I often feel like I’m driving in coastal Australia.

I’ve had the car radio on to keep me company on the drive through the jagged mountain ranges and wine lands. Talk radio most of the time (what can I say, I’m a radio journalist), and I’ve heard a lot of discussions about race. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of racism in South Africa, something else it arguably has in common with Australia.

Just in the past week or so a white real estate agent in Johannesburg has been convicted of four charges of racial abuse, including the use of the k-word (on par with the n-word), and the old apartheid era flag and anthem have appeared at protests against farm murders; and they’re just the incidents that have hit the headlines.

So SAFM have been talking about various issues around race and what I’m going to call the apartheid-hangover.

How do you deal with racism? Do you lock people away? Fine them? Does that work? Or should convicted racists be made to work in the communities they were derogatory towards?

Racism in real estate is a big problem – black people are actively being denied rental properties, if they can even make an application in the first place. Despite it being illegal to deny anyone based on race, many agents are making up elaborate stories to get around it. Or owners are filling their properties on a referral-by-the-neighbours basis, so they can get around overtly saying “no blacks”.

Statues of South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates : Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former State President F. W. de Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela

Statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize laureates. As the website description says: L-R “The late Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former State President F. W. de Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela. The part they played in the road to democracy was long and the struggle filled with hardship and tragedy, yet these remarkable men held fast to their belief that there was a peaceful way forward.”

Apartheid era symbols and statues are still around and cause a great deal offence and bring up a lot of pain for many. It’s not illegal to fly the old South African flag, but you may as well be flying a sign that says “I am white and I think apartheid was a good thing and should be brought back”. It’s a symbol of the entrenched, brutal racial division of South Africa during the apartheid years of 1948 to 1994, and well before that as well really.

The calls and text messages into the on-air discussion were mixed, some saying the flag is just a piece of fabric anyone who is offended by it is too sensitive. Others saying it belongs in a museum and should not be seen in public. But should it be banned?

One professor suggested yes, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts and behaviours of the people who want to fly it, it just pushes them underground. And they may just say that their free speech is being denied.

The farm murders themselves were not necessarily racially motivated, though some would disagree. Farmers are four times more likely to be murdered, but depending on how you look at the statistics, which are not all that detailed, that statement can be disputed as well. But the fact that many white people turned up to the #blackmonday protests against farm murders with the old flag, singing the old national anthem, turned the protests into a race matter.

Correct me if I am overstating it, but it seems to me that many things become about race in South Africa, especially when my experience has been that many white people in particular don’t want to talk about it. They seem rather on edge when you bring anything up about divisions in society.

You Laugh But Its True” is a documentary about the lead up to Trevor Noah’s first solo show in Johannesburg. Many other South African comedians of all colours were interviewed, and during one scene the white comedians were commenting on the jokes many non-white comedians make about apartheid. The general consensus was “they (black people) need to move on, that’s in the past now”.

My question is: what’s the statue of limitations on grief and anger caused by brutally enforced state-legislated racism?

It’s been 23 years since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected and first black president. But just taking a look around, it’s obvious there are still stark socio-economic (based on race) divisions. Townships (were the black population were moved when apartheid was implemented) are dotted all around, some dominated by tin shacks, some with basic small concrete houses, all ram packed, and the majority of people in unskilled jobs are not white.

Bright coloured houses with Table Mountain in the background

The houses of Bo-Kaap (formerly known as the Malay Quarter) are brightly painted – why? Many theories, but probably just because they can.

Education is a tricky thing for anyone who is living on the breadline. Even if school fees can be waived, not all schools are equal in their quality, uniforms are expensive and the need to drop out to start working to earn money may take over.

Over half the total population (about 30 of 55 million) are either too young to remember apartheid, or were born after it had ended. But its legacy is all around.

This is a generalisation and a rather superficial assessment. There are plenty of well-educated, middle class to affluent black and coloured South Africans, and you don’t hear or see racism on every corner.

It is a beautiful place, with a very troubled (and very recent) past. And when I look at Australia, and the US and how both of those countries in particular are still dealing with the racist wrongs of their pasts, I wonder how long it will take South Africa.

The fact they’re attempting to have a public conversation about race, about racism and its ugly nature perhaps gives some hope that a smoother (more prosperous for everyone) way is ahead.

A future where the rainbow of South Africa will be bright.

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