What a week, South Africa. Of old flags and racist rants and countrywide demonstrations and polarised conversations and threats of rape and questions of intelligence and more. How do we move on from here? i wrote this post to try and invite people from both sides to consider the opinion of the other and step towards them, at least in understanding if not agreement.
One aspect of last week that came up was conversations about the old south african flag. What was unfortunate was people posting pictures of the old South African flag that were from years ago at other events and occasions. Which did not help with credibility of this present protest against it. We need to do better. But at the same time, the old South African flag WAS in attendance at a number of current events, as was the old South African national anthem and a number of hate speech posters and ideologies. So let’s not be distracted by the photos that should not have been used to make what is a valid point.
It is not a bad memory, it is a present violence
We do it with the memory of apartheid when we relegate it in our minds and words to being ‘a bad thing’. No, apartheid was not ‘a bad thing’ – it was an abomination that dehumanised and enslaved and broke and tortured bodies and identities and tore apart familied and disrupted dreams and possibile futures and forced people to live in the war zones – on a number of different levels – where they do today.
As a white South African i can think i get what black, coloured and indian people think and experience and feel when they see the old South African flag, because i really care and am trying to understand and want to make a difference, but to be honest I HAVE NO IDEA! i cannot really get it, because it never meant that stuff personally to me. But just hearing voice after voice of my friends who i deeply care about and a number of strangers who i haven’t met, it became painfully obvious to me that the sight of the old flag being paraded was causing a deep traumatising pain to thousands if not millions of people in this country.
So i jumped on to Facebook to offer these words:
South Africa, listen up.
There is an inherent violence associated with the old South African flag. Just because you don’t see it or think that to be true does not make it not so. For hundreds of thousands and probably millions of black, coloured and indian people in this country, it is a symbol of hatred, of dehumanisation, of one of the biggest evils one person can perpetrate over another.
i have had at least two of my female friends share anti-old-south-african-flag posts or articles and had more than one commentator jump on to their FB wall and tell them they should be raped.
From my experience there is an inherent violence to be found in the majority of people who defend and celebrate the old South African flag – i have never seen that kind of response going the other way.
It has been white people every time as far as i have seen. It has been male and female.
The anger and hatred and vitriole that tends to accompany those who are fighting to be able to keep the flag as a thing of ‘heritage’ or a right to bear is unbelievable. And while it may not be a blanket statement on every single person, it has certainly been linked to the related engagements.
If you are a “let’s move on already” or a “can we stop talking about race?” or even a “i believe in the Rainbow Nation” person, it is time to realise that within a huge number of people in our country, the spirit of apartheid and white supremacy lives on and is a violent, evil, unforgiving spirit that cannot be allowed to continue to thrive.
My friend Wayne commented:
The mind bender for me was – we felt more freedom under the old flag clip – that yearning for a freedom that was – at the expense of a people who have never experienced any freedom under any flag.
Then folks pop out of the woodwork and say “well that’s Zuma’s fault” returning to the collective amnesia of apartheid and never declaring we have a long way to go, how do we do this better. [Wayne Eaves]
i was not alone in calling for an end to the old South African flag
Tom Eaton was also having words about the old flag in a status i shared [which got shared even hundreds of times from my share] which got me into a whole lot of trouble, as well as into some frustrating arguments about intelligence:
An old South African flag is not just something you have lying around and decide to take out to express your bad mood from time to time. If you’ve still got one, 23 years later, it means it’s precious to you, a carrier of potent cultural symbolism and treasured history, and I have a right to assume the absolute worst of your character and intellectual abilities. [Tom Eaton]
Turns out it got Tom Eaton into his own amount of trouble and so he wrote this article in which he reitified that people owning an old SA flag were either nasty pieces of work or halfwits…
But in that article, he broke it down brilliantly as to why he came to the conclusions he did:
“Folks. If you understand that you are causing pain to your compatriots by displaying that flag‚ but you don’t care because you believe its historical value to you trumps their historical experience‚ then you are a person of bad character.
If you don’t understand‚ or believe black South Africans have no right to be aggrieved by that flag‚ then you are unforgivably ignorant‚ entirely un-teachable‚ and should probably refrain from saying anything in public‚ ever.
It really is just one of those two options. You can be as offended as you like‚ but the fact remains: if the old flag is anything more to you than a relic in an attic‚ you’re either a nasty piece of work or a halfwit.”
A few of us decided that enough is enough and so we started talking about how to go about seeing if we can actually make practical steps towards getting the flag officially banned or declared as hate speech, which it clearly is. My new friend, Shelley Finch, decided to get the ball rolling by starting a petition calling for a constitutional court ban on the flying of the flag. This has received over 6000 signatures and counting.
But what is also received was some of the most severe hate speech towards Shelley Finch on Facebook, which i won’t post here because it is absolutely disgusting and i don’t want to give it any more airplay. But let’s remember that we are talking about people who are defending flying a flag and their responses are violence and rape. Not that violence and rape are ever legitimate excuses for any cause but a flag.
So if you are in agreement with us that this flag should be banned from being displayed publically, then please click here and sign and share and help us get some more momentum on this. We are chatting to Eusebius and others to see if we can get on the radio and in newspapers and so if you have helpful contacts in any of these areas, please connect with us and join the movement. It has been great to see the Nelson Mandela Foundation getting involved already. Who else will jump on board?
We have not deserved this
This feels like just one more area where black, coloured and indian people have been super patient and gracious with white people. i don’t understand why they have been, because just watching the commentary that has accompanied the flag this week, i have lost so much respect for so many people. No, it is not all white people. It is not even all Afrikaans white people or all farmers. But it is far too many people, many who cowardly hide behind fake social media personas but loudly broadcast their hate speech. Some who are stupid enough to not hide at all.
The old South African flag feels like something that must be added to the #NotOnOurWatch campaign in terms of making a commitment to not see an old South African flag and let it go by uninterrupted or unchallenged. People must know that holding on to the symbols of a hate-filled past is unacceptable and not okay.
Why would anyone want to fight for a symbol that causes so much pain to so many people? We can do better than this.