Colleen Figg

'Don't ban the old flag'

2009-06-05 09:49

I saw a report that there has been a call for the legal banning of the old South African flag.

The chief reason for wanting the flag banned is what it symbolises to the historically oppressed sector of this country. When I said, in answer to an online question, that I would be sad to see the flag banned, someone asked me whether I do not care about what the flag means to millions of black people.

Of course I care; I care as much as I can, as much as I, a white kid from a privileged background, with no real understanding of a black person's life under apartheid, can. I wish I could fully steep myself in the experiences and then maybe I could honestly and emphatically say, ban that flag.

But you see, for me, and for millions of other South Africans, this issue is not about race, but about emotion, patriotism, the sense of belonging.

That was the flag we grew up with, the flag our men did their national service under, swore allegiance to, for better or for worse; most of the time with no knowledge, politically speaking, of who or what they were swearing allegiance to, not embracing any ideologies, just simply being the product of their own upbringing, the same as the black people who hate the flag were being.

But the issue is difficult and complex and its very expression implies insensitivity to other people's experiences. What is important to the people who love this flag becomes hateful and hurtful to those who hate it, so it is very hard to avoid sliding down the treacherous slope of the political or racial angle because for many, there simply is no other angle.

I do not agree with the flag being waved at rugby matches (which is what sparked the call for banning) or saluted or recognised as a secondary South African flag, but an outright ban I do and will resist as vocally as possible.

Am I expected to expunge from my emotional memory, all symbols of my own past? Am I not, as a South African who did not choose which regime she lived under, still entitled to love what I grew up knowing?

Is there a way that we, black and white, can sit across a table, and understand, each of us, what the other sees, perceives and feels with regard to potentially explosive topics such as this or will we always be polarised, I in my camp and you in yours, forever unable to truly grasp what the other is saying and meaning?

Do we, will we, always only see things through our own perspectives - which I am also doing here, I admit - or will there come a day when we will break through and understand the layers that make up a life, that make up a perception, that make up an individual’s own reality, his own history, his own past?

If that day comes, we will all be truly free.

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