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Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Ernst Roets of AfriForum outside the court where the flying of the old South African flag was declared hate speech. (Isabel Venter)
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People who are satisfied with the banning of the old flag should realise what the consequences may be in future if someone feels offended by something else that is important to them, writes Kallie Kriel.
Former president Nelson Mandela is recognised all over
the world for his role in the fight against apartheid. During the fight against
apartheid, the then minority government was also sharply criticised for
restricting civil freedoms and the state's use of banning and censorship to
muzzle the opponents of apartheid.
An example of this is that the ANC and the SACP and their
symbols were banned during the apartheid era. It therefore is a shocking irony
that the Nelson Mandela Foundation, who pride themselves on acting as
standard-bearers of Mandela's legacy, are now using apartheid-style methods to
curtail civil liberties and enforce banning and censorship on contemporary
South Africa through the court case launched by them to ban the 1928 South
African flag (better known as the old flag).
Apart from the danger implicit in curtailing civil
freedoms, the intolerance underlying banning actions also lead to unacceptable
levels of polarisation in the country. AfriForum has been and remains committed
to building a society on the basis of mutual recognition and respect between
communities. This desire is set our clearly in AfriForum's Civil
Rights Charter, which is available on its website.
Melanie Verwoerd: Why white South Africans can't be silent about the old flag
Within the context of AfriForum's desire for mutual
recognition and respect between communities, AfriForum as early as September 4,
2018, in the run-up to the flag case in court, forwarded a letter to the Nelson
Mandela Foundation warning against the polarising effect of a court case and
requesting a dialogue to find an amicable solution to the dispute. The Nelson
Mandela Foundation, however, replied that they "rejected" AfriForum's
request for a dialogue. In spite of this, after the court case the foundation
dishonestly alleged that AfriForum had declined efforts to conduct a dialogue. This
while the opposite was true.
Notwithstanding the lies of the Nelson Mandela Foundation,
AfriForum remains committed to dialogue should the foundation reconsider the
foolish road chosen by them in rejecting dialogue.
Unlike efforts by ignorant critics to create the
opposite impression, AfriForum does not use any flags at its meetings, and
neither did the organisation use the old flag during the "black Monday"
protest action. The journalist Nickolaus Bauer, who at the time falsely alleged
that the old flag had been used, subsequently apologised for his
misrepresentation. AfriForum does not use the old flag, among other things
because the organisation appreciates that there is a part of society who
genuinely feels offended by the display of the flag. After all, it is senseless
during meetings such as "black Monday" aimed at taking a stand
against contemporary wrongdoings such as farm murders in the country, to involve
symbols that offend some people and divert the attention from AfriForum's
desire to build a better and safe future.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation's banning case and their
unsolicited action to involve AfriForum as respondent in the case therefore
also were based on lies.
Having been involved in the case by the Nelson Mandela
Foundation in a malicious way, AfriForum contended in court that communities,
out of respect for one another, of their own accord and through dialogue should
strive not to insult and offend one another. However, this approach definitely
does not mean that anything that offends should be banned.
People who may be highly satisfied with the banning of
the old flag following the judgment in the flag case should realise what the consequences
may be in future if someone feels offended by something else that is important
to them. When the state is empowered to determine what is offensive and should
be banned, we are moving in the direction of a police state where freedom of
speech is curtailed even in your own home. In principle, therefore, it is
important to fight against any politically driven ban, even though one realises
that the price for doing so is high because the battles for freedom of speech
unfortunately are fought inherently only about controversial matters.
constitutional grounds for banning
AfriForum also supports the fact that no right,
including the right to freedom of speech, is unlimited. However, the
limitations on freedom of speech should be defined carefully to avoid these
limitations being abused by a state to suppress the thoughts and ideas of
people who differ from the authorities.
The South African Constitution indeed clearly defines
the limitations on freedom of speech in Section 16(2). This section clearly
states that freedom of speech does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement
of violence and advocacy of hatred that
constitutes incitement to cause harm. Therefore, banning something that
could offend, without there being a call to do harm to anyone, is not in line
with the express provisions of the Constitution.
Consequently, there are no constitutional grounds for
the Nelson Mandela Foundation's politically driven witch-hunt against Ernst
Roets and their undemocratic onslaught on freedom of speech. AfriForum will
rely, inter alia, on this constitutional provision to oppose in the courts the
Nelson Mandela Foundation's further attacks on freedom of speech.
The foundation's approach that hurtful pronouncements
should be banned, even if they contain no incitement to cause harm, is
problematic especially in view of the double standards it applied with the
governing elite when it comes to what is hurtful and what is not.
Whereas the foundation finds a flag hurtful, they have
no problem with statements made by former president Mandela's daughter, Zindzi
Mandela, that white people are "thieves", "cowards", "rapists"
and "unwelcome guests" in the country. Reacting to Zindzi's hurtful
pronouncements, the Nelson Mandela Foundation even went as far as to announce
that they saw no reason even to talk to her about them. In doing so, they
clearly demonstrated that they are not really committed to opposing all hurtful
actions, but that they intend only to curtail the freedom of speech of people
whose views differ from those of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the
AfriForum extends a hand of friendship to all in the
country who, from inner conviction and through dialogue, wish to cooperate in
promoting mutual recognition and respect between communities but also realise
that bannings and curtailing civil freedoms do not serve the interests of
anyone of us. The country cannot afford another censorship board, not even if
such board is now functioning under the name of Nelson Mandela Foundation.
- Kriel is CEO of AfriForum.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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