Are we completely,finally without hope?

In 1992 or thereabouts, Standard Bank flighted an advertisement which captured the zeitgeist of our then emerging democracy.

We were not yet quite there, what with the far right white trying to derail the peace process, and war in the townships between opposing factions in the liberation struggle actively encouraged by the remnants of the apartheid government.

We needed hope as a nation. We needed to believe that the dispiriting mayhem could be contained. We needed to believe that we could reconcile.

The tagline of the advertisement “there is more that draws us together than keeps us apart” crystalised the widespread hope that the spirit embodied by Nelson Mandela – of reconcilation and forgiveness – would prevail.

Despite the apparent hopelessness of the cause, which pinnacled on April 10 1993 when Chris Hani was assassinated in his driveway by Janusz Walus, cool heads and significant compromises prevailed, and we embarked upon a shaky path of reconciliation, and the Rainbow Nation was born.

The rainbow era of Nelson Mandela’s presidency gave us renewed hope, and we reached the pinnacle of our unity as a nation when Madiba bestrode the pitch at Ellis Park wearing his trademark No 6 Springbok rugby jersey, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Francois Pienaar during the singing of the new national anthem.

When the Springboks won against arch-rivals the All Blacks, by a final whistle drop goal from Joel Stransky’s boot, the nation, for a brief instant, stood as one.

Twenty-two years later, the dream of the Rainbow Nation is no more. We have witnessed a gradual erosion of that heady reconciliation dividend, crafted by our beloved Madiba, and perpetuated by sheer force of will by the equally beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

There was a brief moment in 2010, during the FIFA World Cup tournament, when as a nation we once more stood tall, and hope was rekindled, but it was short-lived.

By that time the insidious agenda of division was well under way, but because it had been so gradual, like the boiled frog, by the time we became aware of the heat of the water in which we were swimming, it was too late to jump out of the pot.

The time had come when there was more that drives us apart than draws us together.

And so we have seen the rise of demagogues who promote division along racial lines.

On the one hand those who vilify “whiteness” as if it is a disease, and on the other those who belittle black people with painful hurtful vicious barbs, likening them to animals.

Much more has been said and done on either side, hurtful, vicious, spiteful, divisive, driving us to extremes where we scream at each other across a seemingly unbridgeable chasm of race and privilege and exclusion and pain and fear and hopelessness.

How did we get here? Why didn’t we see the signs? Why didn’t we – each and every one of us – move heaven and earth in our own worlds to realise the dream bequeathed to us by our beloved Madiba?

We find ourselves as a nation teetering on the precipice, but I desperately want to believe that we can pull back from the edge, and gradually replace despair with optimism, anger with understanding, recrimination with cooperation, hate with love, hopelessness with hope, division with reconciliation, acrimony with humanity.

But if we are to do so, if we are to achieve the seemingly impossible, that for which after 1994 we were eulogised as a new hope, we cannot rely on our leaders, for without exception they have failed us.

It is up to us, ordinary people who have the ability to reach out to each other across the divide, and even when rebuffed, reach out again until that tenuous connection is made, and it begins to bear the fruit of genuine reconciliation.

Our redemption as a nation is in our own hands. It will only come to pass by what we as individuals do for, and to each other. It is still within our reach.