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“Old flag” banned: What it’s all about

By Ernst Roets

*This article was sent to News24 as a right of reply to Pieter du Toit’s attack on AfriForum. News24 however refused to publish this response and it was therefore sent to Politicsweb.

The same group who states that the apartheid system was an evil system – among other because it regulated people’s speech and banned opinions that weren’t aligned with the ruling elite’s ideas – now wants to do exactly the same in the current order. Nelson Mandela at the time said that people who wanted to take other people’s freedoms away, did so because they were “prisoners of hate”. He also took a firm stand for freedom of speech and for the tolerance of unpopular opinions. How ironic that nowadays it is the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) who wants to ban the display of symbols such as the so-called “old flag”!

And don’t let them fool you. In the first place, the NMF wants you to believe that the ruling of the Equality Court – who ruled in their favour that the display of the old flag amounts to hate speech – is firstly not a “banning” thereof; secondly that it would not be enforced by police force. Both statements are untrue.

If you want to argue that the ruling – namely that the flag may only be displayed for journalistic or artistic purposes – does not amount to banning, you should in fact also be arguing that the ANC wasn’t truly banned under the previous order. The media was allowed to write about the ANC and the ANC could be displayed in artistic works, as long as these were aligned with the ideology of the government (this is similar to what the NMF argued outside the court about the artistic works of the flag).

Second, it is just as misleading to claim that this is not regulation by the state – and, after all, by the police. The NMF argues that displaying the old flag will only lead to a fine. But what happens when I say, for example, that I have a moral problem with the regulation of freedom of speech and I refuse to pay the fine? I will then be summoned to appear in court. And if I refuse to heed this summons? The police would eventually come knocking at my door because I had been in contempt of court. If I refuse to cooperate with the police, I would eventually be subjected to violence.

George Orwell’s famous dystopic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) speculates about the future under totalitarian governments. Orwell very prominently refers to the term “Newspeak”, which requires the regulation of people’s speech to manage their thoughts and align them in this way with the national order. He then writes: “The revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.” The point that he makes is that a government who wants to micromanage (a totalitarian state) people’s lives, must regulate their speech to ensure that people do not express themselves in a manner that clashes with the ruling elite’s ideology. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

And yet the ruling goes further. The court also found that displaying the old flag in your sitting room or bedroom, for example, also amounts to hate speech, among other because you raise your children in a manner that is not aligned with the ruling elite’s ideology (the courts and the ANC are part of the same ruling elite). As if it is the state’s responsibility to dictate to me how I should raise my own children!

AfriForum described itself as a “reluctant respondent” since the case has started. This is because AfriForum itself never displays the flag. The NMF nevertheless added AfriForum as respondent to the case. AfriForum decided not to withdraw, as this civil rights organisation campaigns for the principle of freedom of speech, yet simultaneously believes that there should be clarity about the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. Obviously, the mere displaying of something that people view as offensive cannot amount to hate speech. Evidently, the court differs in this regard.

The NMF and its supporters wants to convince us that apartheid was the same as Nazism and should consequently be addressed in the same manner as Nazism (with reference to the swastika, of course). This is a denial of elementary history – to put it lightly. Alan Paton, then friend of Nelson Mandela, said that it was a “prostitution of language” to equate apartheid to Nazism. The Jewish genocide spanned four years, during which about 6 million people were murdered. This translates to about 1,5 million deaths per year. Communism was far worse. For every person killed in the name of Nazism, more or less 15 people were murdered in the name of communism. During the so-called “Great Leap Forward” of the communist hero Mao Zedong 45 million people were killed in four years. This amounts to an average of 11 250 000 people per year! During the 50 years or so of apartheid, the security forces killed about 600 people according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and then mostly during political unrest. I am not denying the atrocities committed by the apartheid government, but simply want to point out that comparing it to the Jewish genocide is preposterous.

It doesn’t even help to try and debate whether the ruling amounts to double standards. Obviously, it does. We acknowledge the pain of people who suffered under the so-called “old flag”; however, we do not judge the pain of people who suffered under other symbols – for example the Union Jack (Anglo Boer War) or the flags of the ANC and the Communist Party (the atrocities of communism) – by the same yard-stick.

And this is where the problem lies. The ruling elite evidently does not concern itself with the blatant fact that it acts inconsistently. It is neither about a view on principles, neither about consistent action.

This court ruling is the continuation of an Afro-nationalist battle against minorities to create a homogenous South Africa in which “diversity” is used as nothing more than a marketing gimmick while, in truth, the state forces people through micromanagement to adapt to the ruling elite’s political ideas. It is a battle that is driven by a freedom movement that is unable to take responsibility for any of its failures and – even more importantly – is unwilling to acknowledge that the actions of its support base may just be adding to its chagrins. It is an ideology of entitlement in which any black person’s suffering is by definition the result of white oppression or exploitation. By implication, it is an ideology that excuses all the failures in the black communities by blaming these on white people. It is also comfortable (would “lazy” be a more appropriate word?), because the advocates of the ideology absolve themselves of any responsibilities of introspection or to start working to solve their own problems. They may of course practice nationalism! The problem is, however, when this nationalism is practices by targeting other groups.

The result is that the white minority in particular should not only be blamed but should also be targeted to feed populist statements. In this regard, the Afrikaner is especially picked on. The old flag – which is nothing more than a political flag – is incorrectly associated with Afrikanership. It is not an Afrikaner cultural flag; neither do the vast majority of Afrikaners have any special loyalty towards the old flag (the number of Afrikaners who sometimes display the flag is insignificant). Because of this association, the ruling elite and their supporters rub their hands with joy when the old flag is targeted. It is not about the flag. It is about people who are associated with the flag. If you don’t believe this, take five minutes to have a discussion with any ANC member who demands the banning of the old flag.

We shouldn’t be naïve and blindly accept that this issue is about one or another legal-technical dispute. It is the execution of a totalitarian, Afro-nationalistic, ideological battle that aims to obliviate opposing opinions and to conform us all to the political ideas of the ruling elite.

If they think they are going to succeed in this, they don’t realise what an uphill battle lies ahead. And if you still not grasp this point, a major disillusion is in store for you.

Ernst Roets is Head of Policy and Action at AfriForum
Follow Ernst on Twitter at @ErnstRoets

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