The Rainbow Nation.
Coined by Desmond Tutu immediately after the first open, fair elections that the nation had seen, the nickname quickly came to encompass the myriad peoples and cultures of South Africa, from black to white and everyone in between.
The moniker might, at first, seem out of character for South Africa: after all, in the popular imagination, South Africa is often reduced to simple, straightforward tropes: black and white, apartheid and openness, and activists of the African National Congress (ANC) versus the racist regime, to name a few.
But in truth, the demographics (and story) of South Africa are much more complicated: in fact, while 80% of the population is black African (and 8.4% are white), there are still other minorities: colored, mixed-race people comprise 8.8% of the population, while the Asian population, which mostly consists of Indian and South Asians, is around 2.5%.
Note: in a later post, I’ll be discussing some of the other minorities in South Africa, specifically its Indian and mixed-race populations (descended from Malay and Indonesian slaves brought over from the 1600s onwards).
And more than anything, the idea of the Rainbow Nation was an effort to turn a new page for South Africa. Not only did this new ideal incorporate traditional imagery from several South African peoples (rainbows have positive, joyful connotations in Xhosa culture, for instance), it also promised to be a new start for the nation.
This new beginning was also reflected in the new flag of South Africa, designed by Fred Brownell, then the official in charge of the Bureau of Heraldry. In something of a whirlwind effort, Brownell incorporated colors from both British and Dutch colonial flags (red, white, and blue), along with the ANC colors (black, gold, and green).
Today, the Rainbow Nation (both the nickname and the flag) stands as the most enduring symbol of post-apartheid South Africa, even if social divides and unrest still remain.