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The State of the Rainbow Nation

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The State of the Rainbow Nation by Jeff Cangialosi (2012)

Following the rest of the crowd, I stood quickly as the South African national anthem began to play. I was about to watch my first rugby game at the University of the Western Cape and sitting beside me was my newest South African friend Francis. As I strained to hear the national anthem, I realized that the majority of the song was not in English but a mixture of other languages that I could not decipher.

Sitting back down, I turned to Francis and asked him what languages I had just heard in the national anthem. He responded, “There are five different languages in the song brother…Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English…it’s supposed to create unity, but brother, the people here, they are not unified. No one knows the words.”

Language is one of the most obvious indicators of the vast diversity of South Africa. The national anthem may be composed of five different languages, but in total, the country has eleven official languages. In Cape Town, Afrikaans, English, and Xhosa are the most widely spoken languages, but as you travel across the country, you encounter many different indigenous languages.

In addition to language, another marker of South Africa’s diversity is color. Infamous for its past of apartheid, South Africa is the land of people who are black, white, coloured, and Asian. Making up almost 80% of the population demographic, black South Africans are the largest racial group, but in my view, this black population is heterogeneous in nature, speaking various languages and hailing from different places and cultures found throughout South Africa.

In terms of religion, South Africa is a diverse place as well. As I sat in my room unpacking during my first night in South Africa, I was taken aback to hear the muezzin reciting the call to prayer from the mosque that I soon discovered...

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