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Rainbow nation

Not to be confused with Rainbow Tribe.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is credited with coining the phrase rainbow nation

Rainbow nation is a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa, after South Africa's first fully democratic election in 1994.

The phrase was elaborated upon by President Nelson Mandela in his first month of office, when he proclaimed: "Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."[1]

Symbolic identity

File:South Africa - population migrations.svg
The many migrations that formed the modern rainbow nation

The term was intended to encapsulate the unity of multi-culturalism and the coming-together of people of many different nations, in a country once identified with the strict division of white and black.

In a series of televised appearances, Tutu spoke of the "Rainbow People of God". As a cleric, this metaphor drew upon the Old Testament story of Noah's Flood, and its ensuing rainbow of peace. Within South African indigenous cultures, the rainbow is associated with hope and a bright future (as in Xhosa culture).

The secondary metaphor the rainbow allows is more political. Unlike the primary metaphor, the room for different cultural interpretations of the colour spectrum is slight. Whether the rainbow has Newton's seven colours, or five of the Nguni (i.e., Xhosa and Zulu) cosmology, the colours are not taken literally to represent particular cultural groups.

Rainbow influence

Rainbow nation, as a spoken metaphor for South African unity is uniquely (although not deliberately) represented by the South African flag, which sports 6 different colours.


South African political commentators have been known to speculate on "rainbowism", whereby true domestic issues such as the legacy of racism, crime, and the like are glossed over and "sugar-coated" by the cover of rainbow peace. South African politician, academic, and noted poet Jeremy Cronin cautions:

See also


  1. ^ cited in Manzo 1996, p. 71
  2. ^ Creating the Nation: The Rise of Violent Xenophobia in the New South Africa Unpublished Masters Thesis, York University, July 2003, Nahla Valji, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

External links