A couple donates apartheid flag that draped cop father’s coffin to Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Lourens and Lorato Labuschagne donated the apartheid flag that was draped over the coffin of his father police officer Abram Labuschagne to be archived in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in exchange of the new South African flag.PHOTO: Rosetta Msimango
Lourens and Lorato Labuschagne donated the apartheid flag that was draped over the coffin of his father police officer Abram Labuschagne to be archived in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in exchange of the new South African flag.PHOTO: Rosetta Msimango

NEWS


It was a sentimental moment for the Labuschagne family when they handed over an apartheid South African flag that the couple had kept in honour of police officer Abram Labuschagne, who was killed in a bomb explosion that was planted by right-wing terrorists in a black shopping complex in Bronkhorstspruit in 1993.

On Thursday, Lourens and Lorato Labuschagne donated the apartheid flag for it to be archived in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in exchange of a democratic South African flag. 

Lourens and Lorato Labuschagne donated the apartheid flag that was draped over the coffin of Louren’s father to be archived in the Nelson Mandela Foundation in exchange of a democratic South African flag.PHOTO: Rosetta Msimango

The right-wing bombings were intended to sabotage the first democratic elections held in 1994 and subvert race relations.

“This multicoloured flag was hoisted for the first time on May 10 1994 when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first democratically elected president of this country. Lourens and I were below the age of voting, but we witnessed the change from the different parts we were growing up,” said Lorato.

At the time, Lourens was still in Bronkhorstspruit, just outside Pretoria, reeling from the shock of losing his father. “He passed on in 1993, his family did not know who was responsible for planting the bomb that abruptly ended his precious life. He was 38 years old, and ironically Lourens turns 38 as well this year.”

READ: What next? AfriForum concerned it won't end with 'a ban of the old SA flag', court hears

Meanwhile, Lourens said he only later understood what the flag he held onto for too long could symbolise to South Africans who bore the brunt of apartheid.

“In my home, when my flag was discovered, it was a whole different story. I could see the pain, but I did not understand the pain because I was raised to respect the flag and protect it as far as you can. Thus, I held on to my dad’s flag – it was draped on my dad’s coffin – for so many years. I also want to let you know that I kept that flag dear to me because it was from my dad. His sacrifice was his job, he went to work and he never came back.” 

Sello Hatang. Photo: Rosetta Msimango

The Labuschagnes approached the foundation to ask what to do with the flag in the early stages of the foundation’s court battle to have the old South African flag, which was displayed at an Afriforum-led event, banned. They had planned to donate the flag in 2019, but that was derailed by the Covid-19 restrictions that limited gatherings.

Sello Hatang, the CEO of the foundation said: 

The journey that brought us here started in 2019, when at a public protest in different parts of the country people displayed the old apartheid South African flag. This thing has happened before, and the board of the Nelson Mandela Foundation decided enough is enough. Coincidentally, it was Black Monday when this happened, it should have marked sombre moment where we mark the killings of farm workers and farmers who died.

The display of the old-apartheid flag was banned and classified as hate speech unless it was for academic, journalistic or artistic purposes.

Hatang conceded that hate speech in all its forms and manifestation is killing our country and alluded to the Stellenbosch urine matter.

“We should not separate it because this is part of it, a child of democracy feels that it is right to humiliate a black child, the Stellenbosch moment is the use of urine as a weapon of mass destruction against our nation building project,” he said.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola handed over the democratic South African flag to the Labuschagnes.  

The Labuschagne couple. Rosetta Msimango

“It is a bridge in our society between the past and the future. It is also as I look into your eyes, I can see into your soul Louren Labuschagne that you are pure and that you have been cleansed of the pain that you have suffered at the loss of your father. You understand that you have to break away from the past and embrace a new society,” Lamola said.

He added that the gesture by the Labuschagnes of accepting the new flag still keeps the memory of their father alive because he wanted to save the people of South Africa. “This symbolises that both black and whites can build the South Africa that we want and this bridge that we are seeing today, I hope that will reverberate in all households across the country.”

Oppressive pasts and healing

Human Right’s activist Candice Mama, whose father Glenack Masilo Mama died at the hands of apartheid assassin Eugene De Kock, said that for her, “this moment shows that apartheid continues to revisit at times when we not expecting it”.

“Our healing is not a linear process, sometimes you heal and something triggers you and takes you a few steps back. I think it is important that as South Africans to give ourselves that grace, empathy and compassion to say when you do have bad days and things are not going well and you are experiencing, it is normal and okay,” said Mama.  

South African Flag. Photo: Rosetta Msimango

READ: Daughter of anti-apartheid activist on forgiving Eugene de Kock for killing her father

Author Gaongalelwe Tiro, whose uncle Onkgopotse Tiro was a student activist and black consciousness militant murdered by apartheid security forces, said: “I think that this is a very symbolic gesture, that shows that there are South Africans who are prepared to help the country forge forward. As much as we still have a critical mass of people hampering the past, it is a past that brings brutality on whole lot of people and I think through gestures such as this one, we are able to move forward.”

*This article was updated on June 28 to reflect a clarification of the event that sparked the Nelson Mandela Foundation's court case in 2019.


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