Howard Feldman

Flying the 'apartheid flag' is not about freedom of expression

2019-05-02 17:42
Apartheid flag. (Gallo Images, file)

Apartheid flag. (Gallo Images, file)

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Afrikaans culture is wonderful and rich and deserves so much more than to be represented by an anachronistic icon of a hateful past, writes Howard Feldman.

Can we cut the crap? Can we stop pretending that the defence of the old South African flag is about something other than the need to hold on to remnants of a horrendous period in human history?

Can we not at least try and be honest about what it is all about and not present it as though it's a discussion on the freedom of expression? When every sane and sensitive person knows that it is not?

We need to ban the old South African flag. Just ban it. Get rid of it. Confine it to either a museum where we remember what we are capable of or throw it into the trashcan of history.

Not for the first time, South Africa is playing a dangerous game of Capture the Flag. As if there aren't enough areas of division in our young democracy, lines are being drawn around the banning of the old South African flag.

Very few are comfortable with any limitation on freedom. Especially freedom of expression. But that doesn't mean that there are not valid cases in which the right does not need to be curtailed. To be simplistic, and deliberately obtuse; freedom of association is lauded, but that does not mean that we can enter someone's home without permission at 02:00, in order to associate with them.

South Africa is not the first country to deal with this issue. Germany, following the loss of World War II banned the Swastika. It banned Hitler's Mein Kampf and it banned the celebration of his birthday. It was accepted that following the carnage that had been created in Europe and the loss of many millions of lives in a campaign that represented the ultimate manifestation of racism, that the country could not recover if those images were allowed to be circulated and displayed.

France banned Nazi paraphernalia, so too did Austria and Hungary and the Ukraine. The United States (US) still allows the display of the Swastika per their First Amendment, but it is noteworthy that the US, whilst suffering the significant loss of life during the war, was never subject to Nazi rule, as were the European countries that have outlawed it. 

And although the unhelpful counter argument that an apartheid South Africa was not Germany might be argued, the basic principal was no different. Society was divided on racial lines, with some sectors considered genetically inferior. The flag was a symbol of that oppression and so it remains.

It is around this juncture that the "slippery slope" argument could be suggested. What's next, we might anxiously ponder? Once the old apartheid flag goes, anything can happen. Next, they might come for the koeksisters and then biltong and before we know it, there will be no one to protect the melktert.

It's nonsense. And we know it. Afrikaans culture is wonderful and rich and deserves so much more than to be represented by an anachronistic icon of a hateful past.

An honest conversation means acknowledging that those who seek to not ban the flag are not doing so because they believe in the freedom of expression. The flag in fact is the symbol of exactly the opposite. It represents a time where censorship was at its peak and when millions of South Africans were denied a voice. To turn that figure into something positive, is an irony that is cruel.

Mostly, South Africans need to move on. We need to gather under a symbol that represents us all. The old flag will not be missed. But we will miss out on so much if we keep it hanging around.

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of two books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

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.

Read more on:    apartheid  |  freedom of expression


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