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The rainbow where colours struggle to blend

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Just after 1994, South Africa was a topic on news channels across the world. The country had its first free election and voted into power a previously banned political party and an oppressed majority. Everyone was excited about this breakthrough in restoring voting rights to millions. To crown it all, South Africa implemented a constitution that was an example to the world and envied by all. In addition to basic human rights, no one can discriminate against anyone based on religion, age, gender, physical disability or race. The ban on sexual orientation discrimination even went as far as allowing gay marriage – an issue some first-world countries are only coming to grips with today, twenty-two years later.

A recipe for success, right? An excellent foundation, yes! However, success is still a long road ahead, riddled with obstacles, deviations and people with different agendas.

When do we succeed

What does success at the end of the road mean? Probably different things to different people, and there are very different people in South Africa: eleven languages, any religion you can think of, cultures from all over the world are represented in the country. One would hope that some of the success criteria are common to all people. These basics, according to my humble definition, could be education, security, health, a home, a job. Here is where different views may already come into play, but just agreeing on these basic success criteria would already put South Africans far ahead in terms of people with common goals.

I have my humble opinion about why we are so far away from basic success: culture.  What is culture? It is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. There are many synonyms: civilization, society, way of life, lifestyle, customs, traditions, heritage, habits, ways and values. Collectively, these terms all make up the culture of a group of people. Considering the diversity of South Africa’s population, one can understand why, for many of these terms, there is little commonality among the many cultures in the country.

Which culture is yours?

For some of these cultures, to take a life may not be that big an issue; it might not be such a serious offence to lay claim to someone else’s belongings. Some may not understand that success and affluence come with hard work and clever planning – it is not handed out just because there are inequalities present and past. (Inequality is a worldwide problem and a debate for another day.)

Culture and all its synonyms do not relate directly to race. No, culture is a subtle in-bred set of characteristics and values that you share with the society you live in. Perhaps this is where we got stuck – labelling people’s behaviour, principles and values as “racial”.  We have been blinded by racial differences, instead of recognising them as cultural differences that cross racial boundaries.

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I am not a social behavior expert, but hopefully my essential message makes sense – we have too many different cultural principles to live together in complete harmony. How long it takes to get to a common culture is an open question, but my gut feel is that it could be decades. That is, of course, if there is such a thing as a South African culture that we can all feel comfortable with.

Our success is stifled because our people do not have a common “culture” – and I put it in quotes this time, because there might be a better word – that upholds the value of life, your entitlement to possessions and material success, tolerance of others’ religions and basic values that will guarantee education, security, health, a home, a job.

Once we arrive at a common culture, we may be surprised how much closer we are to the Rainbow Nation that we dream of.