Integration in the Rainbow Nation

Integration is a hot political topic in the UK. The Nanny State wants to be integrated. In many of its cities, citizens of divergent heritage still live in separate neighbourhoods, with little sharing and blending of cultures on micro and macro levels. Nanny is failing at getting the children to mingle in the playground. Why so?

You go to the UK to earn pounds, to get welfare or to send your kids to good schools. You go because it is a multicultural society. A multicultural society is one where there exists a multitude of cultures, side by side, but – very often – indifferent to each other. An airport terminal of cultures. You can take your own norms and live them without any expectation that you subscribe to the local ones. There is nothing wrong with this… except when one wants integration to happen, like the British politicians.

South Africa is a rainbow nation. In a rainbow nation – like in a rainbow – there are many distinct cultures that have blended seamlessly into a whole that is more beautiful than the sum of its parts. In a rainbow nation the colours interweave and flow around each other, too. You don’t go to South Africa for the earning potential, the non-existent welfare or the schools. You go because you want to buy into South Africa. Its land, its people, its vibes. The wildness, the excitement. If you are here it’s because you want to integrate, not transpose your culture from home into a new situ (diplomatic staff exempting, perhaps).


There exist three official languages in South Africa – English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Municipal signs are translated into each. People often switch between two of those languages in conversation. Most radio stations will broadcast in at least two of the languages.  National radio stations will wish their Muslim listeners Eid Mubarak and Hannukah is acknowledged along with the Christian holidays. When has Radio 1 done this? Even though the UK has a much larger Muslim community in terms of percentiles than South Africa (4.8% in the UK, 1.5% in SA).

Lotus FM – SA’s main Indian radio station – is broadcast predominantly in English, with some Hindi, showing how a people blended the culture of their heritage with that of their home. It remains strongly Indian but reflects openness to their surroundings. It has a diverse listenership – myself included – judging by those that call in: cultures are shared and exchanged. And that openness found in South Africa and its people is one of the reasons why I emigrated there.

Cultural cross-pollination is mirrored in the cuisine of the nation, sometimes called “rainbow” cuisine. The exotic fruity flavours of Cape Malay dishes like bobotie and their curries blend with Portugese Mozambique, Dutch, French and local African influences and are as South African as potjie (hearty stews), rusks, milk tart, mielie-pap, boerewors and biltong.

In South Africa we call each other Black, White and Coloured without any taboo. We call each other brother and sister – whether we are related or not, and regardless of whether you are a South African born White or a Congolese born Black. Africa is a nation and a mother. We call Cape Town the Mother City.

Compare the histories of Britain and South Africa. Over millennia it has had a steady trickle of invaders and colonisers. Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Celts. Its identity as it stands, albeit very confusedly, has been formed gradually over a very long time. Compare this to South Africa. It was made up of a plethora of indigenous tribes until the 1600s when its external invaders – the British, the Dutch and to a lesser extent the French and other Europeans– came pretty much all at once, with the Dutch getting there a bit before the rest. These different cultures were jostling for space in the new land, along with the local tribes. And then a bit later came the influx of slaves from Malaysia and India. Wars started – against the indigenous people and against each other. They lasted a long time, all the way to 1994. Even more amazing that a rainbow nation emerged after those storms. Maybe literally having more physical space invites the space for several cultures to flourish. Maybe the fact the tensions continued – in various combinations – for so long is testimony to the conviction each culture had in itself. Maybe that’s what it takes for cultures to be comfortable among each other… in the end.


It seems especially pertinent now, with the ensuing conflict in Gaza, to highlight how South Africa is thriving as a country with so many disparate backgrounds living under one flag. Tell me how a country that was ravaged by an insidious regime can still give birth to the positive attitudes and behaviours I touch upon above? After all, the apartheid years are very much a living memory for everyone over the age of 25.

Not to say inter cultural tensions don’t still exist – hell, even in loving families differences of opinion and perspective causes conflict – but I have only experienced loving kindness from South Africans, regardless of skin colour or financial position. I know hate and indifference – a universal phenomenon – exists here, but I have yet to witness it.

Or perhaps the rainbow nation is a testament to the innate compassion within people: the rainbow nation is there not because a government willed it, but because its people willed it. Nelson Mandela is its shining example.

Integration goes beyond people with different coloured skin living next door to each other. Integration is goodwill amongst people of different background, religion and culture. Integration is inhabitants taking a communal interest in those they share their nation with and a welcoming of those who are different. It means several cultures – each as strong as each other – standing side by side and thriving, none of them more or less South African than the others. The exact location of where each calls home is neither here nor there. The world can learn a lot from South Africa.