Last week’s court ruling that the gratuitous display of the old South African flag constitutes hate speech needs to be seen as part of the bigger discussion about SA’s painful history.
The flag, the statues, the artworks and the names of apartheid-era individuals which continue to adorn buildings and street names all form part of the greater debate about their continued use in the new dispensation.
When the Fees Must Fall activists burnt artworks and sought to destroy statues they deemed an assault on their consciences, the debate was not carried through to its rightful end. Does the outlawing of the display of a flag erase the history of a section of the population?
The problem with SA’s reconciliation project is that even though Nelson Mandela gave it a miraculous boost by boldly stating that all races can live together, no space was made for each group to fully learn and appreciate how damaging and hurtful the system of apartheid was to the black majority.
Part of the current pushback against Mandela’s rainbow nationalism comes from the realisation that a certain section of the white population, however insignificant, took Mandela’s forgiving gesture to signal that apartheid was not so bad. And that group has sought to hold on to the privileges earned through a system of racial discrimination and also reserve the rights to brandish symbols that characterised that discrimination.
Barely hours after Judge Phineas Mojapelo handed down judgment that the gratuitous display of the flag (done without good reason) is considered hate speech, AfriForum’s deputy CEO Ernst Roets went and did so on Twitter, defiantly asking “did I just commit hate speech?” The most obvious thing that his blatant disregard for a court judgment did was to clear the unearned titles that AfriForum got over the years, “civil rights lobby group”.
Roets has now cleared the confusion in the minds of many that the group is not about civil rights, but one that fights to hang on to a painful history and rub it into the faces of those South Africans who suffered from it.
Those who display the flag know it represents not only their portion of history but also distills everything that apartheid and racial discrimination were about and puts it into one piece of cloth, and they choose to wave that cloth in the faces of all who believe in the new dispensation.
They want to reserve the right to fight Black First, Land First (BLF) in court for hate speech. How ironic that an organistion that seeks to stop the BLF’s Andile Mngxitama from saying “we’ll kill whites and their pets” finds it acceptable to brandish a flag that represents a regime that did kill black people. And when a court says it’s not okay to display that flag, they defy the court.
A mistake that is made when discussing the meaning of the flag for South Africans is to liken it to Hitler’s swastika. The comparison suggests those who display the old flag can understand the pain they cause their compatriots only when they compare that pain to that suffered by Jewish people under Hitler.
AfriForum and their supporters need to know that their protection from hate speech is intricately linked to their acknowledgement and acceptance of the true history of SA. Otherwise they are no different to that which they oppose.
OPINION: Sydney Majoko