On Monday morning, I was interviewed on a national TV channel about how successful we’ve been in nation-building. The interview was a day before Heritage Day so, I suppose, it was logical to talk about whether South Africa has a common heritage.
It’s no secret that we do not have a common heritage and that’s what makes this country so beautiful. But it’s also what makes it difficult for us to build a common South African nation.
Preparing for the interview made me think about why we have not had much success in nation-building and whether we will have any success any time soon.
South Africa is a divided country and the divisions escalate when times are tough, and people look for salvation or solutions within group identities. But most of us carry more than one group identity and often we find within family and friendship circles several pieces of group identity.
The most significant group identity which I believe is standing in the way of developing a true South African nation is class. It’s extremely difficult, probably impossible, to reconcile the interests of the people in Bishopscourt and Bishop Lavis.
If one considers that South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world and that inequality has grown significantly in the past few decades, then it stands to reason that the gulf between the people of these areas would also have increased.
My argument is that we can only talk about true nation-building once we have significantly reduced the gap between the rich and the poor in our society.
But we remain hopeful and are always looking for quick fixes. We get excited about a visit from members of another country’s royal family, a country that used to colonise us. We enthuse about the fact that the crowds who gathered to catch a glimpse of them in the streets included blacks and whites, rich and poor, and try to use this as a sign of a united nation.
Despite South Africa losing to the All Blacks in their opening game of the Rugby World Cup, we want the Boks to win the tournament so that we can all bask in their victory and pretend to be unified for a few days or weeks.
We want to experience once again the Madiba magic we saw in 1995, when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for the first time after it was allowed to return to the international competition after many years because of apartheid.
Yet, there are some people who feel that South African rugby still perpetuates apartheid by refusing to take action against one of their star players who faces serious charges of racial abuse and assault.
Uniting a divided nation such as ours requires more than feel-good events, a sporting victory or a musical performance. It requires more than getting excited about a royal visit when we should be questioning the legitimacy of royalty, especially in a country where the taxpayer spends millions on supporting the continuation of tribalism, each with its own sets of royalty, despite our country embracing democracy.
I was hoping to see at least one seminar or talk this week, hosted by a liberal university or progressive organisation, on whether the world still needs royalty.
I am not trying to point fingers at those who got excited about the royals or are still excited about the rugby.
I am merely saying we should approach everything, including the things that appear to make us feel good, with a degree of scepticism. Uniting a diverse country such as South Africa is not easy and requires hard work from all.
We need to be able to seek common ground without losing our ability to ask important questions.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.