In a heart-wrenching call to 702, a black man called Ben broke down in tears as he begged lobby group AfriForum’s head of policy and action Ernst Roets to stop displaying the old South African flag.
“How do you make an academic argument of a young man walking into a hotel in the Free State and seeing an old South African flag?” he asked, referring to Roets’ sharing of the flag on Twitter hours after “gratuitous displays” of it were ruled to be hate speech. Roets claimed his sharing of it with the caption “Did I just commit hate speech?” constituted an “academic question”.
“It represents the pain of black people from the past, how do you make South Africans’ pain from the past academic?” the caller continued, before telling Roets his displaying of the flag is “not an academic statement but spitting in the face of the pain” of black people.
“It’s a painful thing you are doing”, the caller said before breaking down into tears.
“That flag does not represent all that is good about South Africa, please, please, please stop posting the flag, it is painful for us as black South Africans,” he continued, in tears.
“I’m really sorry about your pain,” Roets said in response. “But,” he added that he wasn’t trying to reduce the caller’s pain to an “academic argument”.
He said he has never denied anyone’s pain, but said that this didn’t trump his concern over government-driven censorship.
Roets did not at any point in the interview back down from his argument that AfriForum’s opposition to the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s application to have the flag, called the “apartheid flag” by its detractors, was a matter of principle.
Roets said that he associates with “conservative” members of the Afrikaans community and that they don’t display the flag, and would be told to put it away if they did. He told host Nickolaus Bauer that while he would have himself told those displaying the flag to put it away, he would now no longer do so because “we’ve entered this era of government-led censorship”.
Afterwards, Bauer handed over to Tshego Modisane, who asked Roets why he couldn’t simply acknowledge that the flag was the “apartheid flag”. The full clip can be listened to below.
In the Equality Court on Wednesday, it was ruled that displaying the flag amounts to hate speech.
Following the ruling, Roets was accused of “provocation” on social media after he posted a picture of the flag just hours after it was declared hate speech, with the question, “Did I just commit hate speech?”
In a second tweet, he justified sharing the flag due to the fact that it can still legally be used for “academic purposes”. Roets argued that as he is an academic who is currently doing his doctorate, and that his tweet counted as an “academic question”.
WARNING: The image included in the tweet below may be considered offensive to some:
The reaction to this tweet is as expected. The judgment said the flag may be used for academic purposes. I am a scholar of Constitutional Law, currently doing my doctorate. This is an academic question. It seems the NMF’s quest for apartheid style censorship & banning continues. https://t.co/qRvfFzd2RK
— Ernst Roets (@ErnstRoets) August 22, 2019
In court on Wednesday, Judge Phineas Mojapelo criticised AfriForum’s “literal interpretation” of the law by trying to limit the understanding of expression of ideas to that conveyed by “words” alone. He said the reference to “words” should be understood as communication beyond verbal or written language alone, but that symbols, too, could be covered.
A flag could, therefore, be considered a form of speech.
He also rubbished the organisation’s freedom of speech defence, saying it was illogical and should be dismissed, as there are limits to this freedom. He said the right to display the flag needed to be balanced against protecting human dignity and human rights, particularly those of the formerly oppressed black majority.