South Africa – the land of sunshine, seagulls, the Big 5, Table Mountain, award winning wine and an abundance of friendly people. The poster child for diversity, South Africa has risen above hard core challenges and some seriously darker times, breaking through a glorious, effervescent and tenacious version of its former self.
It was aptly coined the ‘’Rainbow Nation’’ by national icon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, describing the ‘’New South Africa’’, post-apartheid, after the very first democratic elections way back when in 1994. Culturally and ethnically diverse as they come, a Rainbow Nation gave South Africans the long awaited chance to embrace their differences and sever the barriers between the people, united as one.
With an unprecedented 11 official languages, the country is a delightful mix of skin tones, religious beliefs, ethnicity and mother tongues, all working and living side by side. But change is not always as easy as it seems, and the transition that South Africa has experienced during the last 2 decades has certainly not been the easiest.
But as a new generation emerges – post-apartheid babies all grown up – having experienced a vastly different start to life than their elder counterparts, South Africa is starting to see other changes that are as exciting and dynamic as the people themselves.
There will always be the painful reminders of the horrific era of apartheid – but the new and emerging generation uses the past as a reminder to constantly move forward, constantly work together and to continuously strive to rebuild their Rainbow Nation and to make it their own.
In any one day in South Africa you could experience the glory of the rolling vineyards of wine country, watch a traditional gumboot dancing show, have your face painted by African women, sample some of the finest local bunny chow cuisine (half a loaf of fresh white bread scooped out and filled with piping hot Indian Curry), have your hands and feet painted with henna by Indian women, eat melktert (milk tart) with the tannies (aunties), attend a cattle show with the boere (farmers) and finish off the day with a real South African tradition – a lekker ( awesome) braai (BBQ).
Every single South African regardless of race, culture, religious beliefs, age, social status, financial status or location is brought together by the braai. On a nice sunny day, in the pouring rain, in the wind, hail or snow – any day or night of the week you will be able to find a bunch of South Africans huddled over a braai, ice cold beer in hand, enjoying time with their friends and family.
These days South African children are brought up with lessons on how to braai, make melktert and love their neighbours – a true sign that the past has been put behind them for good.
by Zanele Mthembu
For decades, we as black South Africans held on to the promise that one day we would be free and enjoy the liberties that whites and other citizens were enjoying in our country. This gave us the strength to fight and endure a long and hard struggle against Apartheid. It paid off on April 27, 1994. Both young and old, we all stood in long queues to cast our first vote as South Africans. That historic day will forever remain etched in our memories. That is the day the door to freedom was finally swung open. We entered eager and with very high expectations of the new democracy. It was a wonderful feeling to know that now we had the freedom to live, socialize, go to school and work wherever we wanted. However we soon realized that things were not going to be as easy as we expected. Freedom comes at a price. A price many of us did not understand why we had to continue to pay after such a long and painful struggle.
South Africa is like a convalescent learning to walk again after a major accident. You never know how difficult it is going to be until you get up from the chair and try to stand on your own. The recovery is very painful, the muscles are weak and do not want to cooperate. You soon realize that recovery is a long and painful process. After a prolonged period of incapacitation it takes time for the body to regain its former strength. It takes patience, focus and perseverance. Your cooperation, determination and dedication will determine the speed and quality of your recovery.
We are a nation in recovery. We have been left maimed and scarred by apartheid. We are up and ready to take the first step. We know we are not strong yet and we need help from more developed nations. We especially need to learn from the experiences of our fellow brothers and sisters on the continent who have also gone through what we are only now experiencing. We have come to realize that freedom is just the beginning of yet another struggle. We are all new in this process of democracy and we have to hold hands, government and the people and make this democracy work for us. There is a Zulu saying, which goes Izandla ziyagezana which means one hand washes the other. The government is the one hand and ordinary citizens, are the other hand. We need both hands to wash away the legacy of apartheid. We need to remove the dirt and grime from the past so that we can sit with clean hands at the table of democracy and enjoy the fruit of our labor.
We need a reconstruction of the peoples mindsets and the development of a new and positive attitude all round. That can only be done through education. The better educated our nation; the better our future is going to be. We need to be educated about what our role is or should be in this new democracy. We need to be educated not only about our rights but also our obligations. Freedom comes with a lot of responsibilities. We are responsible for our destiny. Yes, government has a part to play but they cannot do it on their own. We have to actively participate in helping the government better our lot. Working with our leaders is not new to us. During the days of the struggle, there was always a strong partnership between the leaders and the masses. That is what made our struggle a success. We need to rekindle that partnership, so that we can reconstruct and develop our nation.
Zanele Mthembu was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa. She came to the USA in 1996 and attained her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from Howard University in December 2000. She is currently working for the Discovery Channel in Bethesda, Maryland.
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