The "Myth Of The Rainbow Nation" Exposed By This Young South African Digital Artist

22-year-old South African artist Tiger Maremela examines the facade of the 'Rainbow Nation' through digital art.

The Republic of South Africa. The Rainbow Nation. An insipid idea birthed under the naive belief that reconciliation would mend all fences and every man, woman and child of every race, culture and creed would live in a post-racial society devoid of the remnants of almost 100 years of oppression and discrimination.

Fast forward to 2016 and we live in some of the most uneasy times in South African history. Racial tensions are boiling over, issues of class and privilege are vigorously being interrogated and we’re seeing the thin veneer of the once revered ‘Rainbow Nation’ slowly peel away to reveal a decaying cavity that instead of being treated was covered up in hopes of it healing by itself. At the forefront of this conversation are young people, young people who have realized the severity of the unequal times we live and want to make an active change to the status quo.

One of the many young people engaged in these conversations through their respective mediums is 22-year-old Joburg-based digital artist Tiger Maremela. Tiger created a multimedia digital art piece interrogating various notions of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ such as capitalism, land redistribution, assimilation, black excellence and other intersectional issues like male masculinity and the politics of blackness.

‘’The series is an 8-part interrogation of the Rainbow Nation myth that we were fed in 1994,” says Tiger. “As young people that have inherited this blatant lie, we are becoming more vocal in speaking about social injustice and the inequality that exists along various lines including race, gender, (dis)ability, class, sexuality and various other parts that make up identity. roygbiv is a way of deconstructing this myth and showing how and why it is a lie. It is a way of reimagining ourselves.”

Tiger takes you through a complex and often overwhelming journey in the series, aptly titled roygbiv, a mnemonic device used to remember the colours of the rainbow, addressing subjects like the hotly-contested land redistribution issue and how sports have become a vehicle for “nationalism” in post-Apartheid South Africa. The interlude of the series is an empowering homage to the often forgotten women that have been at the forefront of liberation struggles such as Winnie Mandela, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa.

The latter part of the series is a visceral look at the shocking statistics of depression and mental health in the black community. The conclusion is a juxtapositional look at society’s obsession with male hypermasculinity and the constant and active erasure of queer and transgender representation in society. It’s the best and most striking part of the whole series.

The façade of the ‘Rainbow Nation’–now in its 22nd year–has been South Africa’s longest running soap opera for a while now, with as many twists and turns as you’d expect from a weekly episodic TV show. There are the sinister villains of the Apartheid era, and their heirs apparent, and the resilient stalwarts of the resistance, whose selfless sacrifices eventually ushered in the introduction of democracy in 1994. But like every ying has a yang and every hero has a nemesis, sometimes the hero reigns with an iron fist and eventually blurs the line between right and wrong. Art often imitates life, and vice versa, and the same reigns true in South Africa.

One of the most famed instances of a white knight becoming a treacherous outlaw is filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed movie The Dark Knight. One of the characters in the movie recites a line that pretty much sums up the theme of the whole movie–and the state of the Rainbow Nation. “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Keep up with Tiger Meremela on Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo. All images courtesy of Tiger Maremela.

Thapelo Mosiuoa is a Johannesburg-based copywriter, lifestyle writer and the author of an unfinished book. Follow him on Twitter at @ThapeloMosiuoa.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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