The Black and White Rainbow

Reconciliation, Opposition, and Nation-Building in Democratic South Africa

Subjects: African Studies
Paperback : 9780472054633, 264 pages, 5 illustrations, 2 tables, 6 x 9, October 2020
Hardcover : 9780472074631, 264 pages, 5 illustrations, 2 tables, 6 x 9, October 2020
Ebook : 9780472127177, 264 pages, 5 illustrations, 2 tables, 6 x 9, October 2020
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A multifaceted study of identity in South Africa exploring themes of nationalism, democracy, and nation building


Nation-building imperatives compel citizens to focus on what makes them similar and what binds them together, forgetting what makes them different. Democratic institution building, on the other hand, requires fostering opposition through conducting multiparty elections and encouraging debate. Leaders of democratic factions, like parties or interest groups, can consolidate their power by emphasizing difference. But when held in tension, these two impulses—toward remembering difference and forgetting it, between focusing on unity and encouraging division—are mutually constitutive of sustainable democracy.

​Based on ethnographic and interview-based fieldwork conducted in 2012–13, The Black and White Rainbow: Reconciliation, Opposition, and Nation-Building in Democratic South Africa explores various themes of nation- and democracy-building, including the emotional and banal content of symbols of the post-apartheid state, the ways that gender and race condition nascent nationalism, the public performance of nationalism and other group-based identities, integration and sharing of space, language diversity, and the role of democratic functioning including party politics and modes of opposition. Each of these thematic chapters aims to explicate a feature of the multifaceted nature of identity-building, and link the South African case to broader literatures on both nationalism and democracy.

Carolyn Holmes is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Mississippi State University. Her research has appeared in African Affairs, Acta Politica, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, Democratization, and the Journal of Southern African Studies. She has conducted extensive field research in South Africa, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Fulbright-Hays Program, and she has frequently contributed to the Monkey Cage column published by the Washington Post.

"In many ways, according to Holmes, South Africa is no closer to forging a fully functioning nation than it was in the 1990s. This pessimistic conclusion comes from open-ended, carefully constructed interviews that Holmes conducted in 2012–13 with voting-age Afrikaners in Bloemfontein and Zulu in Durban. ...The result is a well-crafted, provocative contribution to research on political development and mixed societies like South Africa."

- R. I. Rotberg

"Taking a cue from an image from the world-famous South African political cartoonist Zapiro, Carolyn Holmes’s The Black and White Rainbow confronts this notion in a compelling book that ask several fundamental questions about the future of South Africa as a nation-state in the twenty-first century...[This book] should be read by all students and scholars of South African history, politics, and society." - H-Net

- Jacob Ivey

Listen: Reviewed in New Books Network podcast | 3/25/2021
Read: Reviewed in The Washington Post | 8/26/2022