Finding the Rainbow Nation in rural South Africa

When thinking of South Africa, the term Rainbow Nation usually comes to mind. South Africa is often dubbed a Rainbow Nation because of its diverse and vibrant culture. This is certainly true when looking at the country as a whole, but when you delve deeper into the individual states of South African society, it becomes clearer. This is shown by the huge variety of languages in the Eastern Cape, for example, where the common tongue and culture is Xhosa, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, its Zulu and Sotho or Afrikaans in the Free State.

Most of the rural areas in South Africa are covered in grassland and surrounded by rolling hills or mountains that can shadow the villages. Most of these areas run for miles with small hamlets and villages dotted around the area, with roundhouses made from mud with the floor made from fired cow dung. More commonly nowadays, they are made out of bricks but still with dung flooring, with more regular houses scattered around. As family is one of the quintessentials of South African life, most pieces of owned land have numerous buildings for any visiting family members, who roll into town and leave regularly. Also, every household usually has a kraal (livestock pen) for the cattle and pigs which the family rear for food. This is served at ceremonies or as a means of a livelihood. This is becoming more and more prevalent as unemployment rates are still at a high level, especially in these rural areas.

“Here, tradition can be found alongside modernity”

Rural communities are the largest example of how culture and tradition lie deep within the roots of South Africa. Here, tradition can be found alongside modernity. People commonly attend cultural rituals or ceremonies for a wide array of occasions, such as blessing a newlywed couple or to remember a community member who had passed away the year before. During these ceremonies, most of the attendees will be taking photos on their smart phones or tablets as well as singing traditional songs. The most important part of the ceremony is the meal that comes with it, which never fails to bring together all those that attend. It usually consists of a fresh piece of meat provided from the family’s livestock, pap (boiled maize meal), rice and lots of fried, roasted and boiled vegetables.

Tradition is at the heart of nearly every rural community in the form of the chief and the headman, both of which are revered by all the community members. The chief may the pinnacle of the importance of culture in Xhosa society, as the role is hereditary and has been so for as long as the Xhosa tribe has existed. The headman is the equivalent of the mayor of a township who is elected by the community members. Nonetheless, they are culturally significant as being the ‘Hand and Voice’ of the chief.

In the more rural communities, the absence of larger grocery shops, is very noticeable. To do a food shop for the week, one has to drive or hitch a lift in a taxi to the nearest town or city, which can range from a simple ten minute journey, to a couple of hours, with quite a lot of the time spent waiting for the taxi to fill up before it leaves. The rich cultural diversity that the Rainbow Nation represents can be found in these communities where the occasional Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Indian shopkeeper runs the small store in the village. It is clear how, even after a generation or two, they have managed to adapt to the culture and surroundings of the communities.

In a rainbow, the individual colours blend with each other. South Africa’s ‘rainbow’ culture therefore demonstrates its diversity. One only has to watch the national rugby team or the national football team to see how the various cultural groups mix. South Africa’s cultural diversity can be further seen around the state borders, where you can find Xhosa people living side by side with Zulus, or Tswana people with Afrikaaners.

Life in rural South Africa proved to be as varied as the rest of the country. South Africa is dubbed as a Rainbow Nation and rightfully so, for it is vibrant with cultural diversity; a refreshing sight after its scarred history with apartheid. No longer is South Africa driven by the binary oppositions of black and white, it is a rainbow in every sense.

– Nick Brown travelled and volunteered in South Africa for three months in the summer of 2014.


About Author

nickbrown Having spent a year living, working and travelling around South East Asia and a summer working in South Africa, Nick has definitely caught the travel bug. When he has his feet temporarily fixed to the ground he’s juggling a Biology degree, various sports and planning his next big trip overseas, usually with a tan in mind or a place where his mediocre dancing skills don’t matter.

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November 2021
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