It’s 2018, and here we are debating whether we should be banning the display of the old South African flag mere days after parliament voted in favour of land expropriation without compensation.
If you were feeling optimistic about the country’s future recently, welcome back to the reality that this is still the same place that almost descended into civil war in 1993, and many of those same complications continue to bedevil us today.
Personally, I can only sigh that Sello Hatang from the Nelson Mandela Foundation decided that this particular moment was the most opportune to thrust himself into the media spotlight with a court application that the flying of the old flag should be branded hate speech and banned. It’s a tricky argument, even though it’s hard to find any good motivations for why anyone would want to see apartheid’s clearest signifier fluttering in the breeze in this fractured country.
We don’t have to imagine what someone who wants to fly that flag would say about why they want to fly it. We know only too well what they say and how they think.
In short, it’s a provocation. It’s a protest. They fly the flag because they know it upsets black people. And they don’t care.
They don’t care, because they’re angry, and for a variety of reasons.
They feel life under a “black government” is far worse than it was under white rule, and they refuse to reflect on what things were like for black people under the apartheid government. They stubbornly dodge the challenge of imagining life from the perspective of those who do not look like themselves or think like themselves.
Even if you aren’t an angry white man or woman, there are many reasons for anyone to be angry about the failures of the current government, but for that to become an excuse to yearn for the days of segregation and enforced oppression is simply wrong.
Anyone who flies the old colours is a sore loser. They’re still deeply confused about how the current status quo could have been allowed to come about in the first place, because notions of white superiority and privilege don’t just disappear in one generation, or even ten.
To state more of the obvious, they’re angry because they’re tired of crime, or their perceptions of crime, especially the attacks on farmers that have been stacking up a body count over the years that leaves them bitter and ready to exact vengeance on the closest thing resembling an enemy.
Deep down, or perhaps even openly, they may even be yearning for outright war in the mistaken belief that any good can come from it, in the misguided notion that a handful of disgruntled farmer types may be able to return to the old guerrilla tactics of the Boer War and give a good account of themselves. Some cling to a deluded faith in those old Siener van Rensburg prophecies that the Germans will eventually step in and save them – but for that there has to first be a war.
The recent rhetoric and threats of land expropriation will only make them want to dust off the old war drums even more.
No matter how you spin it, there can be no peaceful intent in any open display of the old flag by a white person.
There’s little difference between those among us who display the apartheid flag and the Americans who still fly the old Confederate flag in the US South.
But I don’t think either symbol should be banned outright, though I wouldn’t miss them if they were. If you want to be a giant racist boil on the gangrenous backside of South Africa, then that should be put on full display so we can see you for what you really are and judge you accordingly.
There are too many closet racists in South Africa who secretly harbour precisely the same views as those who proudly fly their orange, white and blue tributes to historical evils.
No doubt, the ones who raise this flag are dangerous and are destabilising the fragile peace that exists between white and black in this country. But at least they’re honest racists, objectionable as that honesty may be. And they’re for the most part completely ignored.
Hatang and the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s request to have the flag banned as hate speech is a well-intentioned effort in the ongoing fight to save people like that from themselves, and to save the rest of us from their stupidity.
So I won’t shed a tear if the foundation is successful and the flag does get banned. It should be banned if we are to consider ourselves a half-decent, civilised society.
I’m just not convinced we deserve it. Even more importantly, these racists will simply see it as an even greater call to fly the flag in provocation and be turned into martyrs for their imbecilic cause.