Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 10:43 UK

Rainbow nation - dream or reality?

Black and white South Africans joined hands in dancing and singing 11 February 1990 at a mass African National Congress (ANC) rally in Soweto

By Audrey Brown
BBC News

When Nelson Mandela became president of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994, he promised he would build a nation where people of different races could live together in peace and harmony.

The racial bloodbath feared by many had been averted.

"The time for the healing of the wounds has come," Mr Mandela, who has now turned 90, said at the time.

"We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white - will be able to walk tall. A Rainbow Nation at peace with itself and the world."

His words ushered in a collective reverie as white South Africans discovered their common identity as Africans.

Nelson Mandela looking out of his old cell at Robben Island
Remember the horror from which we come
Nelson Mandela

Those who were not white looked forward to the opportunity of earning a decent living and educating their children.

Although there was recognition that it would be hard to reverse apartheid's legacy, there was a general feeling that - with Nelson Mandela at the helm - the country would pull through.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to lay bare the horror of the past and put it to rest.

But not everyone noticed that this rosy view relied on the goodwill of the very poorest South Africans who were expected to forgive and forget - even though there were reminders everywhere that this new South Africa did not necessarily include them.

Any talk of the differences between black and white lifestyles, attitudes or expectations was shouted down - no-one wanted to wake from the dream.

'Black diamonds'

Yet white South Africans, basking in their new-found acceptability, maintained their wealth and advantages.

We have the historic duty, I believe, to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to live in a raceless society
Professor Neville Alexander
University of Cape Town

Only a few middle-class black and mixed-race South Africans, the so called "black diamonds", were able to gain an education, get government contracts and tenders - their share of some of the spoils of a powerful economy.

Motsoko Pheko, a member of parliament for the Pan Africanist Congress - a rival to the ruling African National Congress during the long anti-apartheid struggle - said government policies were "pure appeasement".

In truth, the only area where rich and poor, black and white have any shared experience is crime.

It is a terrifying reality for everyone, although white South Africans - on their farms and behind their high walls - believe they are the real targets.

They point to the racially charged language sometimes exchanged between black criminals and white victims.

Bronwyn Patterson, a white woman who was robbed and had to listen while her daughter was being raped by black men, spoke of being called a "white bitch".

If we fail, it's got the ingredients, like any other racial order, of genocidal conflict
Professor Neville Alexander
University of Cape Town

Some black South Africans in rural areas speak of unbridled brutality against them as armed white farmers "mistake" them for baboons and shoot to kill.

Timothy, a black activist in a small agricultural town west of Johannesburg, says people get paid too little for back-breaking work.

There have been some widely reported incidents when black people have been attacked by vicious dogs - and even lions - as they go about their business on farms that their ancestors once owned and they now work on.

Mapule Lottering's child Nkarabile was shot and injured in an incident in which four of her neighbours were killed by a white man. Armed, white farmers also fire shots and throw missiles at the flimsy shanty dwelling where she lives.


Fourteen years after Mr Mandela's new nation was born, the country's newspapers are still filled with stories of snubs and rejections as white establishments blatantly refuse to allow black people in.

South Africans sell meat in the open air
Many South Africans remain stuck in poverty

Yet white South Africans vote with their feet as they complain that their opportunities are dwindling, as the government promotes its policy of Black Economic Empowerment.

The re-cutting of the economic cake, it seems, is leaving most people dissatisfied.

More and more black people are also leaving the country as the dream starts to fade.

South Africa's streets may not be paved with gold, but as local people leave, millions more come from other parts of the continent to try and make a living.

This has added to the country's racial and economic burdens because more poor black people add to the competition for scarce resources like houses and jobs.

Earlier this year, these tensions spilled over into a shocking outbreak of xenophobic violence, which left more than 60 people dead and thousands homeless - attacks which Mr Mandela condemned.

For me, racism has never been something that I've even contemplated
Jamie Patterson, rape victim

"Remember the horror from which we come," he warned.

Professor Neville Alexander of the University of Cape Town says South Africa's racial mix presents a unique opportunity but also a danger.

"We've been given the historic opportunity, because we have a black majority that suffered and has struggled in an anti-racist movement to bring about a non-racial order.

"We have the historic duty, I believe, to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to live in a raceless society.

"But unless we handle it carefully, it can turn into its opposite and I think that most political people haven't thought deeply enough about this - if we fail, it's got the ingredients, like any other racial order, of genocidal conflict."

Perhaps the best hope for Nelson Mandela's lofty ideal of a true melting pot comes in the words of Bronwyn Patterson's daughter, Jamie.

She was born in 1990, the year Mr Mandela was released from 27 years behind bars, and says her black rapists were definitely full of "hatred".

"But to be angry at black people would be stupid," she says, remembering how black church members from Soweto gave her an award after overcoming her ordeal.

"When they prayed for us, it brought tears to my eyes because it was with such sincerity.

"For me, racism has never been something that I've even contemplated."


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