We all know how South Africans are referred to as the ‘rainbow nation’ in order to signify the country’s cultural diversity because as a nation of millions we have a lot of different ethnic groups or tribes and various different languages. Our national anthem is a good case in point because I’m convinced that there isn’t another country in the world that has an anthem made up of 4 different languages. (It’s obviously so many languages that it can get confusing if you’ve indulged in some smoking of the holy herb ala Ras Dumisani) I think it would be best to put this breakdown into context by stating some figures because the population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world; of the 45 million South Africans, nearly 31 million are Black, 5 million White, 3 million Coloured and one million Indian. The Black population is divided into four major ethnic groups, namely Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda. There are numerous subgroups of which the Zulu and Xhosa (two subgroups of the Nguni) are the largest. The majority of the White population is of Afrikaans descent (60%), with many of the remaining 40% being of British descent.
We all know the stereotypes around different ethnic groups (or tribes) in our country: eg. Zulus are violent, Xhosas are liars, Sotho’s are meek, Venda/Shangaan men have ‘tools’ that certain animals would be proud of, Coloureds think they are the main ou’s (there was a song I heard when I was in high school which emphasized this point “bruin ou’s bruin ou’s we are the main ou’s”), Indians are always looking for the best deal whether they are on the buying or selling side (“Come on my friend”) and Afrikaaners are all brandy and coke drinkers with a penchant for boerewors and sakkie-sakkie.
What I’ve often questioned is whether tribalism is still a big part of our lives or if we truly are a rainbow nation and to question the extent these paradigms manifest themselves in, does it affect who you go into business with for example and try to uplift and benefit etc. I know they say charity starts at home but is that something we all still apply in our daily lives to the level of pushing the advancement of the ethnic group you belong to or buying into beliefs of the ethnic group that’s in power?. Politics is the easiest place to see these paradigms at work especially considering the different leaders we’ve had since 1994. Tata Mandela’s government was one of unity and for lack of a better word, symbolic. We then moved into the Thabo Mbeki era and ultimately to our current president, Jacob Zuma.
There’s a common belief that under Thabo Mbeki, Xhosa people were advanced, not only in government but in the business world as well eg. Smuts Ngonyama and the Elephant consortium that were given a huge stake (in a BEE deal) in the state owned fixed line operator (Telkom) that they have recently made crazy amounts of money from with the sale of Telkom’s stake in Vodacom (Apparently their percentage ownership was much higher than initially stated in official Telkom documents, Xhosas and their lies). The same applies to our current president, Jacob Zuma is considered to be ‘righting the wrongs’ of the Mbeki era by advancing the cause of the Zulus. Zuma has appointed Zulu brothers into top positions since he’s taken over, for example our top cop (Bheki Cele) is now a funny hat wearing man who loves his women a little young (who has been advocating a ‘shoot to kill’ policy for the cops since the day he was appointed to the position, Zulus and their violence).
What’s interesting is how the media also plays into stereotypes based on the political leadership of the country at that time. I heard a DSTV ad on the radio where they play into the stereotype of Xhosa women being gold-diggers recently (A guy takes a woman on a date and says that she can have whatever she wants and you can clearly hear her say something like “Yo mtshana in that case I’ll have 12 oysters” and etc etc and the tag line is something to the effect of “it’s cheaper to stay indoors with DSTV”) and I’ve been told about a DJ Cleo song to the same effect (I have not heard it personally so the person who told me about it could be lying, He is Xhosa).
I might come across as being petty but I don’t believe that we would have ads with blatant stereotypes of Zulus in the media currently (There could be a backlash since Zulus are so violent) because we’re under Zuma’s administration and the media knows how to toe the line. Politics and the media are blatant examples of where we can see tribalism at play but there are various other spheres as well eg. sport (rugby and cricket are seen as xhosa sports while taxi driving is seen as a zulu sport) and business.
We sell ourselves as the rainbow nation so I believe that we need to advance to a stage where the ethnic group you’re from shouldn’t matter because we’re all black. The population stat in the first paragraph says that there are nearly 31 million black people in SA not 5 million Zulus or 5 million Xhosas (I’m not sure of actual numbers here but I thought I should make them equal before I’m accused of being a liar or trying to incite violence). The Rwandan genocide is a case in point of what can happen when tribalism is taken to the extreme so let’s aim to advance as a people (including learning to laugh at stereotypes because that’s exactly what they are). We should be proud of our heritage but we shouldn’t let it determine how we advance our cause. Let’s keep the peace and tell the truth J
[I should put a disclaimer in and state that I’m part of one of the Nguni tribes (before people say that I’m putting them down because I have a spear sized ‘tool’) and I only focused the discussion on the Nguni tribes because our presidents thus far have either been Xhosa or Zulu. I truly believe that the trends I speak of would be the same under leadership from different ethnic groups.]