Banning the Old SA Flag – Yes or No?

Other than the debate about the land issue no other issue elicits as much responses in our public discourse as the debate as to whether the old South African flag should be banned. The matter was brought to a head when the Nelson Mandela Foundation recently asked the Equality Court to declare “gratuitous and unwarranted” displays of the old South African flag as hate speech. In its application the Foundation submitted that displaying the old apartheid-era flag constituted hate speech, unfair discrimination and harassment based on race.

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/equality-court-asked-to-declare-gratuitous-displays-of-old-sa-flag-as-hate-speech-20180228

AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel in response to the Foundations application said that they did not agree with the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s move to ban the old South African flag. He remarked that as Afriforum they don’t use the old South African flag at any of their events but felt that banning the flag would be a setback for freedom of speech and democracy, “if you start banning things, what is next?” he asked.

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/afriforum-against-mandela-foundations-attempt-to-ban-gratuitous-displays-of-apartheid-flag-20180301

In another response the activist Johan Pienaar said that he wanted people to start talking about the old South African flag. He laid down the old Oranje, Blanje, Blou (orange, white, blue) with names of some of the most prominent apartheid architects and enablers written on it, inviting attendees of the US Woordfees in Stellenbosch to walk on it.

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/we-need-to-have-a-discussion-about-the-old-flag-20180307

The flag was however stolen when somebody handed him a note that the flag is now expropriated without compensation.

https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/this-flag-is-now-expropriated-without-compensation-attempt-made-to-steal-old-sa-flag-used-in-protest-20180308

The anti-racism project team at The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation also weighed in on the subject by arguing that the old flag keeps us rooted in our ugly past.

https://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/oranje-blanje-blou-keeps-us-anchored-in-the-ugly-past-20180316

I don’t want in this post to necessarily go into the merits of the arguments set out by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in support of their views other than to say I find their gratuitous use of the words “Black Majority Country” offensive as if South Africa do not belong to all who live in it, Black and White. If the standards of how we as South Africans is to be defined going forward are simply going to be by what the majority wants, then I’m afraid we are on the slippery road to a majority dictatorship (to illustrate this further its generally accepted that the majority of people in South Africa wants the death penalty to be bought back but this would clearly be unconstitutional).

What then is my view on the possible banning of the old South African flag. Whilst displaying the apartheid flag anywhere in public is currently not illegal in South Africa, I feel strongly that its display in public spaces is a clear a sign of disrespect and lack of consideration for the feelings of Black people for whom this flag remains a strong reminder of a painful past. I won’t therefore ever personally display the old South African flag or wear any clothing with it because I appreciate that the flag has a political connotation that many of my fellow South African’s find offensive.

Having said that I’m for several reasons also totally against banning the old flag including its display by those that still choose to do so. In the first place banning it will just drive its display underground by those that still see it as a symbol of White supremacy. It’s banning will create an unnecessary rallying call for those that want to try and regain the power they lost.

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Secondly, why would we in a democratic South Africa want to be like the Apartheid government who banned all those things they did not like, found offensive or a danger to their ideology like books, political parties, undesirable people and yes also flags like that of the ANC or SACP.

Talking about the SACP flag brings to me to my third reason for not wanting to ban the old flag – if its banned because of its political connection to Apartheid and the trauma and humiliation suffered by Black people then so must the communist flag, which is part of the SAPC’s heritage, also be banned as the said flag is tied to untold trauma suffered by millions of people worldwide under successive oppressive communist regimes.

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The fourth reason is that the flag, despite its political connection, is still part of our history and that its banning will not remove this fact. Our history books will be incomplete without the old flag being displayed therein serving as a reminder to us all, painful as it is, of our troubled past. Just as the British Union Jack as part the old South African flag reminded Afrikaners of the trauma and humiliation suffered under the British imperialist before, during and after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

The fifth reason is that if the old flag is banned, will eventually also lead to our current beautiful national flag being questioned at some time, by populist like Julius Malema as its represents from a heraldic point of view a synthesis of some of our previous flags including, yes also the old SA flag. It contains the two “Colonial era” flags – The national flag of the Netherlands (Dutch flag) – Red, White, Blue and the British Union flag – Blue, White, Red. Then the two former Boer Republic flags – the South African Republic (Transvaal) “Vier Kleur” – Green, Red, White and Blue and the Orange Free State Republic Flag (using the Dutch insert flag and the white) and then finally the African National Congress (ANC) Flag – Black, Green and Gold (which colours are also present in the Inkatha Freedom Party and Pan African Congress flags).

South-African-Flag

For further information on the history and symbolism of all South Africa’s national flags see the following excellent article on “The inconvenient and unknown history of South Africa’s national flags” written by Peter Dickens:

https://samilhistory.com/2017/03/15/the-inconvenient-and-unknown-history-of-south-africas-national-flags/

In the article the author has the following to say about the symbolism embedded in our new flag and what its means for the detractors of both the new SA flag and the old SA flag:

“The V symbolises inclusion and unification. In essence it is another flag of “Union” (unity) only this time acknowledging the county’s Black population and its historical heritage.  Symbols considered in the design of the “new” flag included Catholic and Anglican Priest’s Classic Chasubles, the universal symbol of Peace and the married Zulu female traditional head-dress.

There are some claims that the “New” South African flag is just a “design” with no meaning or symbolism – but that’s not the opinion of the man who designed it – Frederick Gordon Brownell.  Also, I find that whenever that when this argument is used it’s usually to deny meaning to the new South Africa flag and to degrade the country, describing it as “jockey Y front underpants,” when in fact the truth is the opposite and the flag is stuffed full of meaning and symbolism.

In fact, the “New” South African flag reflects all the old flags of South Africa, these exist right there for all to see, plain as day to the trained eye (and even the untrained eye) – symbolically placed in the new flag – and that’s an inconvenient truth to both the “new” flag’s detractors and the detractors of the “old” OBB (old SA flag).”

My sixth and last reason and for me personally the most important reason (and which I will therefore take time to explain as best as I can) is that, although I will never display the old flag for the reasons as stated above, it still has great sentimental value for me and many White South Africans, not because it reminds me (and hopefully the majority of my fellow White South Africans) of White supremacy, but because it’s the only flag under which we grew up.

For many many South Africans life as we know it did not start in 1994 and we have memories, some of it good and some not so good, from long before 1994. These memories include growing up in the old South Africa and being patriotic countrymen proud of our heritage and our country with all its beauty, but yes also with all its warts including the failed and tragic attempt at social engineering called Apartheid. For me and many other White South Africans the old flag was a symbol of a country that we loved and in which we were growing up. A country that despite all that was bad, was still the most advanced economy and developed country in Africa by far with many technological advances that was the envy of the rest of the world, a country that denied communism as it existed then to take a foothold, communism which at that time not only denied millions of people the right to vote in all communist countries, but which as I stated above, also killed millions upon millions of people in all parts of the world.

In summary therefore I will never display the old flag and try and convince those that still do so that it’s definitely not the right thing to do, but even if the old flag is eventually banned it won’t deny me the right to feel sentimental about the old flag just as I will never allow anybody to deny my love and admiration for our beautiful new South Africa national flag and for our changed country which now rightfully embrace all its people as first class citizens.

Footnotes:

  1. Whilst I appreciate that the old SA flag is offensive to Black South African’s as it reminds them of the discrimination they suffered under Apartheid, its important to note that the old SA flag was born out of the ideals of 1910 Union led by Jan Smuts and Louis Botha and not under the Apartheid ideals of 1948 of DF Malan and HF Verwoerd.
  2. When the National Party came into power in 1948 they wanted the old SA flag changed as they detested what they called the “Bloed Vlek” (Blood Stain) which was the British Union Flag inserted in the flag. This was a National party pet hate as it reminded many Afrikaner nationalists of British decimation of Boer families and farms during the Boer war. However broader public pressure at the time prevented the initial National Party proposals for a flag change from been passed by the SA Parliament and the idea was eventually shelved (see the article of Peter Dickens for more on the actual history of the old SA flag).
  3. The fact that the old SA flag was not the creation of the Apartheid idealists but those that came before them answers the question of many in support of banning the old flag namely why we should it not be banned it if the Nazi flag was banned as a symbol of hate in post war Germany. Fact is that the Nazi flag was designed and introduced by the Nazi party specifically as the national symbol of their murderous National Socialist regime whereas the old flag was as set out in 1 and 2 above not the creation of the Apartheid regime.
  4. Those in favour of banning the old flag often refers to the hurt they feel if they see it displayed in public. In response I have asked how regularly they in fact are exposed to its public display as I’m personally only aware of a few idiots and by far a minority of participants that did so during last year’s #BlackMonday protests (and even then the argument that it was displayed gratuitously at the event was wholesomely discredited when it emerged that certain unscrupulous journalists used previous pictures of the old flag on display saying it was from the #Black Monday event) . I drive around the country a lot given my work commitments and I’m yet to see or view the old flag being displayed openly in public view other than at the Castle in Cape Town.

Helen Zille, the ‘unrepentant closet racist colonialist” versus the Dependency Brigade

If you do a quick search of the internet using the words ‘Zille’ and ‘colonialism’ and ‘tweet’ your computer screen will explode with links to so many articles, that for a moment you will think that she put the social welfare payments to 17 Million poor South Africans at risk….. sorry I have got the wrong story but a story I nevertheless must come back to in a future blog post.

Most ostracised Zille for her now ‘infamous’ tweet that “for those claiming the legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.” This tweet is often read in isolation from Zille’s other series of tweets on the matter which read as follows:

  • Much to learn from Singapore, colonised for as long as SA, and under brutal occupation in WW2. Can we apply the lessons in our democracy?
  • Singapore had no natural resources and 50 years ago, was poorer than most African countries. Now they soar. What are the lessons?
  • I think Singapore lessons are: 1) Meritocracy; 2) multiculturalism; 3) work ethic; 4) open to globalism; 4) English. 5) Future orientation.
  • Other reasons for Singapore’s success: Parents take responsibility for children, and build on valuable aspects of colonial heritage.
  • For those claiming the legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc. (My note – I only repeat this tweet again here for context).
  • Would we have had a transition into specialised health care and medication without colonial influence? Just be honest, please.
  • Getting onto an airplane now and won’t get onto the wi-fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of colonial legacy was bad.

My issues with the multitudes that crucified Helen Zille is that they totally ignored that in the field of development studies, of which I’m a masters degree (cum laude) graduate, two of the most prominent theories of development is the modernization and dependency theories. Both these have their strong and weak points but are nevertheless accepted in academia as still valid (although mainly out of favour) theories of development that add value to the age-old questions of how desirable change in society is best achieved and why certain communities are in general more developed, and therefore better off than others. If her critics took some time out before shouting out ‘unrepentant closet racist colonialist’ to do some research they would have found the Helen Zille’s series of tweets lies at the heart of the debate of which of the modernization or dependency theories best answers these vexing questions.

For most African nationalist and those that criticised Helen Zille, they have an almost blind faith that the colonialists are to be blamed for all Africa’s misfortunes and are therefore in full support of the dependency theory of development unfortunately to the extent that anybody that questions it in any way, is called out as a heretic as Helen Zille found out.

Dependency theory is the notion that resources flow from a “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped states to a “core” of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former. It is a central contention of dependency theory that poor states are impoverished and rich ones enriched by the way poor states are integrated into the “world system”.

Dependency theory states that poor nations provide natural resources and cheap labour for developed nations, without which the developed nations could not have the standard of living which they enjoy. When underdeveloped countries try to remove the core’s influence, the developed countries hinder their attempts to keep control. This means that poverty of developing nations is not the result of the disintegration of these countries in the world system, but because of the way in which they are integrated into this system.

The dependency theory arose as a reaction to modernization theory, an earlier theory of development which held that all societies progress through similar stages of development, that today’s underdeveloped areas are thus in a similar situation to that of today’s developed areas at some time in the past, and that, therefore, the task of helping the underdeveloped areas out of poverty is to accelerate them along this supposed common path of development, by various means such as investment, technology transfers, and closer integration into the world market.

Both theories have close historical links to colonialism. The dependency theory argues that the underdevelopment of poor nations in the Third World is solely derived from systematic imperial and colonial exploitation. The modernization theory, on the other hand, argues that colonialism aided the Third World to modernize their institutions of governance, infrastructure, and society.

These two main theories of development have been severely critiqued over the last five decades mainly in that both theories make the mistake of treating lesser-developed communities as homogeneous (i.e. as having the same characteristics). They fail to understand that value systems and institutions tend to be culture-specific. For example, Ethiopia and Somalia may be neighbouring lesser-developed communities but their cultures are quite different from one another and may each, therefore, require different development programmes.

Both theories also make the mistake of treating capitalist societies as homogeneous and consequently fail to acknowledge that there are different types of capitalism and reactions to it (for example, American capitalism based upon Fordism tends to have a different character to Japanese capitalism which tends to be more paternalistic). Both theories are also often accused of being over-deterministic in that they make little attempt to explore the interpretations of people in the lesser developed communities (failing to acknowledge that people in lesser developed countries might rationally choose to take a capitalist path, might rationally choose to hang on to their own culture or might rationally choose to combine elements of capitalism and their own cultures – as in Japan).

The main issue for me with these theories is that they both simplistically present the relationship between lesser development communities and the West in terms of conflict or ‘us versus them’, totally ignoring any other determinants of development. For example, modernization theory only sees lesser development communities such as ours as ‘backward’ societies that ‘need’ the West’s help to develop, whilst dependency theory only sees ‘us’ being exploited by ‘them’ for cheap labour and raw materials.

Because of the above shortcomings, both theories have largely fallen out of favour and have been replaced by theories that focus on sustainable and human development. Ironic then that those that so freely criticised Helen Zille, currently still hold on so dearly to the out of favour dependency theory, that they will call those that dare to questions its wisdom ‘unrepentant closet colonial racists’.

Helen Zille’s series of tweets asks some critical questions that sit squarely within the decade-long debate between the proponents of the dependency versus modernization theories without herself arguing that the one theory is 100% right and the other 100% wrong. She inter alia asked how Singapore given its history of colonial and oppression during World War 2 managed to overcome the negative effects of dependency to become a successful state and offers some suggestions on why she thinks this might have happened.  She then poses the valid question namely if they could do it why not Africa, in other words what can our continent perhaps learn from them and lastly reminded us that colonialism did not only have negative effects (for further illustration if you tell the absolutely cricket-mad Indian citizens that they have to forego the game because it’s part of the legacy of colonialism, which it is, they will politely tell you to take a hike!).

Lelouch Giard in his piece “Helen Zille: How politically correct must we be?” rightly puts her series of tweets into proper perspective:

“Not once did Zille say that colonialism was not negative. She did point out that it is more complex than just ‘all bad’ (as is often the case with a situation calling for a moral judgment). She was not defending or justifying colonialism, she was looking at it from an angle that is often ignored (an angle that exists and is quite valid).”

I personally take my hat off to Helen Zille in that, unlike most other politicians who hide behind populist slogans and calling serious issues facing our citizens ‘funny democracy’, she is willing to open herself up freely for important debates that we need as a society to ensure that one singular version of the truth (the dependency theory in this instance) is not forced down our throats blindly by the political elite and their social media watchdogs and those that are too scared to question these many truths in the name if being politically correct. Say what you want about Helen Zille or call her names to wits end but if you want to be taken seriously by her then you better take heed of what Gwen Ngwenya said about Helen Zille on Facebook namely that she “… will expect you to fight to be right through the merit of your argument and not the colour of your skin”.