Something To Ponder
The Flag Debate
In April 1994, the old South African flag also known as the “apartheid flag” was lowered and replaced by the rainbow flag at the beginning of the general elections. It had been in use since 1928. The old flag that comprised of three stripes of orange, white and blue, with the emblems of Britain, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic at the centre. To the majority of South Africans, this flag represented and still does oppression and racist discrimination. It is a reminder of a dark era in the Southern African history that is painful and one that should be left in the past.
The new flag is supposed to represent all South Africans. It was designed to symbolize unity. The red, white and blue colors were taken from the colors of the Boer Republics. The yellow, black and green are taken from the African National Congress (ANC) flag. Black symbolises the people, green the fertility of the land, and gold the mineral wealth beneath the soil. When a part of the population decides to raise another flag other than the one adopted in 1994 and one that was supposed to unite everyone, then problems arise.
In 2017, the Nelson Mandela’s Foundation Trust petitioned the Equality Court after white farmers displayed the old flag at ‘Black Monday’ marches. The demonstrators were protesting against the killing of white farmers. The court gave its verdict on Wednesday 21st August, barring the display of the flag except for academic, artistic or journalistic purposes. The landmark ruling has elicited different reactions from both sides of the divide.
In 1994, after decades of armed struggle, terrorism and international opposition to apartheid, South Africa gained victory over the oppressive system that had dominated her since 1948. Under the ANC, the nation held her first democratic elections. For the majority of South Africans, mainly the black community, the dream of freedom and equality had at last been become a reality. In the minds of many, it was only a matter of time before they were free not only to walk in places they were forbidden before, but, they and their children could work and live in places they could only see from far. They would now be able to earn like the privileged few, farm in the farms of their forefathers and so on.
Twenty five years later, not much has changed. There are still huge disparities between the haves and the have not’s. The children of the freedom fighters, the “born free” or those born during the years after 1994, are struggling to get jobs. Many in the rural areas and townships languish in poverty. They blame the government and the rich of whom the majority are white for their plight in life. For the old and young, the old flag represents their oppressor and the past when the nation struggled under the yoke of apartheid. Anyone therefore displaying this flag is seen to be agitating for the dark past and is bound to evoke strong feelings of resentment and probably violent reactions.
When the farmers resulted in displaying the old apartheid era flag, they did so in protest against violent crimes, including murder, assault and robbery; that take place on farms in South Africa targeting the farmers. Most South African farmers are usually white, but the farm attacks also do target the farm workers, who are usually black. The display of the old flag therefore is seen as an expression of nostalgia for the old days when the whites ruled supreme. “It demonstrates a clear intention to be hurtful, to be harmful and incite harm and it, in fact, promotes and propagates hatred against black people … it constitutes hate speech,” Judge Phineas Mojapelo said when passing the judgement.
As well as the born free black South Africans, there are also white and coloured ones. These youth all expect to benefit from the freedom that is enshrined in the South African constitution. Some of those white farmers caught in the current wave of attacks on farmers and their workers are children who inherited these farms from their forefathers. The history, of how the farms came to be in their families’ possession differs. Some inherited farms taken from the black citizens by force while others legitimately bought the farms and bequeathed their children. Therefore, when the attacks come, it is reasonable to assume some sort of response will be forthcoming.
South Africa still has wounds that have not healed and measures to this end must involve everybody. The resulting reactions to the judgement by Judge Mojapelo clearly bring this out. Both sides of the divide are hurting. Equality as was envisaged 25 years ago has not been achieved. Though there are many good things that have happened, like the free or subsidized housing for the poor by the government, water, electricity and availability of education to the masses, more could have been done had there been less corruption in the corridors of power.
The feelings of helplessness in the majority of black South African youth have led them to be suspicious of anyone who seems to be prospering. Any form of success is seen by the youth as an indication of their being displaced from their rightful place. In this kind of thinking, the youth seem to come from a place where they expected the government to take over each and every business from anyone who is not South African and black and hand it over to them. This is very unrealistic and unhealthy.
More needs to be done in the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a bid to heal the nation. What has happened in this issue with the flag is only one symptom of a deep and simmering discontent within the masses and it is bound to keep popping its head over and over. There is an urgent need to address the underlying problems that are the root of these feelings of discontent by all South Africans.