Remembering the Rainbow Nation
"Lend me your hand and we'll conquer them all, but lend me your heart and I'll just let you fall.
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see, but your soul you must keep totally free."
- Mumford & Sons
“AfriNova wishes you a good morning. The weather outside is partly cloudy with a high chance of rain. Breakfast this morning will be one food capsule. The bus will arrive in exactly 30 minutes.”
My eyes flickered open as I heard the electronic voice playing through my alarm clock. I let out a shaky breath, wishing for one minuscule second that I could go back to sleep. My dreams were vivid and colourful, but the world I had to wake up to was dull and grey. I wasn’t tired, but the desire to remain in bed with my dreams was strong today.
It was always the same message, played over and over again every morning. Nothing ever changed around here.
I sat up, pushing the grey covers off my body. They fell to the floor, and I sat in silence for a minute. Since when did I need to talk myself out of bed? It was always the same, the alarm went off and I bolted upright, rushing to the bathroom to get ready for the day. Why was I suddenly unable to do that? My mother always said it was best not to dwell on anything. If you thought about something too much it would eventually eat you up from the inside. I always followed her advice, my mother was a smart woman, and today was not going to be any different.
My feet hit the wooden floor as I got up and walked into the bathroom. It was still dark outside, but that was nothing new either. Living this close to the Smoking City meant that we lived under the constant cover of smog, which blocked the sun out. Sometimes when it rained the smog cleared for a while, but in the 16 years I’ve been alive I’ve only felt the sun once. The lights flickered on inside the bathroom and I continued with my morning routine. It was always the same every morning. Wake up, brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair.
I didn’t really know what I looked like, I’ve never seen my own face. I knew I had brown hair and brown eyes, but only because everyone else had brown hair and brown eyes too. I knew my hair was cropped short, like everyone else’s. Sometimes when I was feeling rebellious I would trace my face with my fingers, trying to get a sense of what was going on there, but I couldn’t tell much. I guessed that I just looked like everyone else.
After finishing my bathroom routine I changed into a pair of grey pants, a grey shirt and my worn out grey boots. My alarm clock went off again, signalling I had fifteen minutes left before the bus came.
We lived in a two story complex twenty minutes away from the Smoking City. It was a block type house painted grey, like everything else in this world. I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen. We didn’t really use it, since we were rarely allowed to make our own food. We mostly just drank the food capsules. They were loaded with all the vitamins and nutrition we needed. I opened one of the cupboards, pulling the breakfast container out and filling a glass of water. I swallowed the capsule with one gulp of water, pouring the rest down the sink.
“You forgot your watch.” My head snapped up as I heard my father’s voice by the door. He was holding out the small grey watch. I walked over to him, taking it from him and putting it around my wrist. We weren’t supposed to leave the house without it. It beeped, signalling that I had five minutes.
My father worked the night shift in the Table Mountain Mine, which means that he got home when my day started. His face was tired, and when he smiled at me I could see it didn’t reach his eyes.
“Be good,” he told me before making his way to his room. “And don’t forget your mask.”
“If I forgot that I’d know,” I mumbled, picking up my mask from the table in the hallway. I put it over my face, pressing the activate button before stepping outside. The smog made it impossible to breathe without a mask, one inhale caused your lungs to burn immediately. I waited patiently on the doorstep for the bus to arrive. The mask also cleared your vision and protected your eyes, you couldn’t see through the smog without it. The street we lived on wasn’t busy. I could see the kid who lived across the way waiting for the bus too, but we never spoke to each other.
A poster attached to one of the street lamps came loose in the wind and blew across the street. AfriNova’s symbol, three horizontal stripes underneath each other, was the first thing to catch my eye. I had seen the poster before, it was on every billboard and street lamp and in every classroom at school, but the stripes always sent a chill down my spine. They were so ordinary, yet everyone knew what they meant. The wind swept the poster away before I could read the words, but I knew what it said by heart.
“Diversity Kills. Equality Saves.”
AfriNova’s slogan. Those two sentences were probably the first words every newborn baby in this country spoke. Those words were engrained into our minds, and they were everywhere we looked.
My watch beeped again, and right on time the bus appeared around the corner. It came to a stop in front of my house, and I made my way toward it. I was the last stop before the bus turned onto Island Avenue, a stretch of road between the mainland and Nova Isle. The Government thought it best to build the schools for the city on the Isle, it was far enough away from the Smoking City that we didn’t need to wear masks, and it was also on an Island, which meant no slipping school even if you tried.
The Government ran AfriNova. One of the first things they taught us in school was the history of AfriNova. My teacher always started off with this quote from some long dead guy who said that violence as a way of achieving racial justice was immoral and wrong. Guess he was right.
“Look,” the kid sitting next to me said, gently elbowing me in the ribs. This was always my favourite part of the ride to school. Just before the bus reached Nova Isle the Avenue curved, allowing us to see the Smoking City full on. Some people said that it was horrifying to look at, but I thought it was majestic. Before it became the Smoking City it was called Cape Town, the mother city. It burned down over 300 years ago during the Race War. The fire started at the harbour and spread inland, burning and swallowing everything, and everyone, in it’s path. Now all that remained was the skeletal remains of an entire city, cold, dead and beautiful. Legend had it that somewhere deep inside the city, a fire still burned, which was why it never stopped smoking. It was the city that kept us living under the cover of smog.
I was six or seven when they first taught us the history of AfriNova. I came home that day confused and scared, because I didn’t know what to make of what they told me. My mother held me in her arms and told me to ask her any question I wanted to.
“What’s a civil war?”
My mother sat back, brushing her fingers through my short hair. “A civil war is when people of the same country fight and turn against each other.”
I frowned as I looked at my hands. “So when you and daddy fight?” I tried to understand. My mother smiled and nodded her hand.
“Yes like that, only all of the people of the country fight against each other.”
“My teacher said that before there was AfriNova, there was a place called South Africa.”
I could feel my mother stiffen at the mention of South Africa, but at the time I thought nothing of it. We were taught that South Africa had a rocky past, and that the people of South Africa could not live together in peace in harmony. Everyone was different, diverse, and most people viewed that as the root of all their problems.
“What you need to understand baby, is that the history of AfriNova is very complex. But to understand that, you first have to learn the history of South Africa.” Then my mother did something I had never seen her done before. She reached underneath the couch and pulled out a book. And not just any book, a book with pictures in it.
During the Great Fire of the Race War, all the libraries and books in the country were burned. Entire histories and collections were lost, but some were able to save a book here and there. The Government outlawed books, and the only books we were allowed to read and touch were those written by the Government in the early years of AfriNova. Anything pre-AfriNova was destroyed. Or so they thought.
My mother showed me a book containing pictures of what South Africa looked like before the wars. Things I had never seen, rolling grass hills, cities lit up with different coloured lights, people of different colours living with each other, were in that book, and it blew my mind.
We used to live in a breathtaking country. A country with green mountains and blue oceans, with happy people who embraced their diversity. A rainbow nation, the people called it.
Then the Language War came. It was the first step South Africa took toward AfriNova. South Africa had eleven official languages, and the language war was about how one language should be removed. The Language War sparked a Civil War, turning brother against sister and friend against friend in a fight that eventually engulfed the whole country, and when language was finally out of the way, the Race War started.
South Africa died, their government fell and their economy collapsed. This all happened over the short span of 50 years. Finally the United Nations stepped in. With South Africa’s economy in shambles and the collapse of the mining sector, the rest of the world was plunged into a shortage of platinum, gold and diamonds, slowing the growth of their economies and making their countries unstable.
“You see, race and diversity wasn’t just a problem in South Africa, it was a problem all over the world. South Africa was simply the first country who broke out in a war. The UN knew they needed to do something before the Race War spread to the rest of the world, so they formed AfriNova. They sealed South Africa off, thinking that taking away their diversity and replacing it with uniformity would solve all of their problems. If people couldn’t see the beauty in diversity and embrace it, maybe they would be happier when everyone was the same.”
The Government of AfriNova outlawed diversity. Everyone spoke the same language. Everyone was the same race. Everyone had the same culture. Everyone worked in the mines. Everyone got the same wage, education and health care.
‘Don’t be different. Fit in.’
Everyone had the same hair and eye colour. Everyone lived in the same houses and wore the same clothes.
‘Diversity destroys. We are one.’
“Did it work then Mama? Are people happier now that they’re all the same?” I wondered out loud, my eyes still glued to the picture of an elephant and lion resting in the grass.
“Diversity is a gift sweetheart, and no matter how hard they try to take it away from you, no matter how hard they try to take everything that makes you who you are, they will never succeed. People are beautiful because they are different, embrace it.”
And she was right, the beauty of South Africa was in the diversity of it’s people. The Government, or anyone else for that matter, could never take that gift away.
But they did take my mother, because in AfriNova, if you’re different, you die.