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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 175-199
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Where Does the Rainbow Nation End?
Colouredness and Citizenship in Post-Apartheid South Africa 1
Modern political thought generally assumed that the universality of citizenship in the sense of citizenship for all implies a universality of citizenship in the sense that citizenship transcends particularity and difference.
—Iris Marion Young, "Polity and Difference."
IN THE EARLY 1990S, IN THAT FIRST HEADY POST-APARTHEID INCARNATION, with the demise of the racist state still new and optimism abounding, Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered his fellow South Africans a resonant symbol for their future. It was a symbol, however, that contained within it a signal challenge. With his customary hyperbole, the Archbishop anointed South Africans the "rainbow children of God." South Africa's moral leader had spoken, divined his people to be at once richly, splendidly different, composed of an array of hues and yet united as a spectacular force of nature. How the historic politics of difference that had divided apartheid society would be replaced with Tutu's visionary unity was neither clear nor programmatically laid out. His upbeat rhetoric, however, captured poetically the tenor and the hopefulness of the post-apartheid moment. In his inimitable way, Tutu's [End Page 175] theme of unity-within-racial-difference echoed the larger ambitions and strategies of identity politics, one of the key political trends of the 1980s and '90s; a mode of politics learned, in no small measure, from the anti-Establishment, minority, feminist, and youth cultural struggles of the 1960s.
From the anti-Thatcherite energies that sustained the Greater London Council (GLC) in the early 1980s to New York City Mayor David Dinkin's 1989 metaphor of the "grand mosaic" 2 to describe the various communities who compose this archetypal American metropolis, the impact of the identity politics movement was such that Tutu's symbolism meshed easily with the prevailing tendencies in pluralistic, culturally diverse societies. Like Tutu's racial "rainbow," identity politics was based on the capacity to produce alliances out of ideologically discrete left constituencies such as gays, lesbians, ethnic communities, and greens, among others; as a movement, identity politics depended on the capacity of these groupings to make and sustain common cause, with varying degrees of organizational permanence. The "need," as E. P. Thompson so presciently phrased it in the early 1960s, "to knit diverse agitations into a common movement." 3
However, what distinguishes Tutu's clarion call from the resonances of identity politics and what motivates his morality is the issue of citizenship. The rights and privileges attendant to national belonging were legislatively denied to the majority of the South African population until 1994. While Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City, and the GLC were trying to create or consolidate temporary unities out of (liberal or left) constituencies that were already enfranchised (regardless of how unequal their de facto status might have been), in the early 1990s South Africans were taking up the task of all becoming citizens for the first time. A decade later, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship remain an ongoing project 4 —enfranchisement, equality before the law, equal access to the state's resources and civic institutions, are all pertinent issues for the new nation's polity.
The complexities, unevennesses, and transient nature of identity politics, however, serve as an apt metaphor for this essay. For the South African coloured community, identity is an issue fraught with racial ambivalence and ideological uncertainty. This is constituency for whom a sense of political self has perpetually been (and still is) contingent, regardless of the race [End Page 176] of the governing constituency. For coloureds, more than any other of the nation's communities, 5 citizenship has to perform what the liberal Canadian theorist Will Kymlicka terms an "integrative function." 6 Citizenship has to be the political "device" through which coloureds "cultivate a sense of community and common purpose," producing an affect which enables them to transcend the peculiarities of their experience and become national...