THE removal of five flags from the Castle, which track the recent history of the country dating back to Dutch colonial rule in 1652, is ill-conceived.
Last month, six flags flew above the Castle of Good Hope at the Leerdam wall. They were: the first Dutch East India Company (VOC) flag, the British flag raised in 1795, the new Batavian flag, the new British flag of the Second Occupation from 1806, the apartheid era flag, and lastly the new South Africa flag, set slightly apart from the others.
The new flag now flies alone, acknowledging only the country’s last 18 years of freedom.
The other flags were withdrawn following an instruction from the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans last month.
“It is wrong for the flags of oppressors to fly side-by-side with the new flag,” said Parliament’s joint standing committee on defence chairman JJ Maake. “It doesn’t look right. “You wouldn’t fly those flags at the Olympics or when Bafana Bafana play,” he said.
Of course it would be distasteful to fly the Oranje blanje blou or the other flags in any modern-day situation, or to display them on any building.
But Maake is missing the point.
The Castle is not a modern landmark, there to reflect South Africa today. It is a monument to our colonial history, including the scars of centuries of invasion, occupation and dispossession.
The oldest surviving colonial building in the country, the castle was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company as a maritime refreshment station.
It later became a strategic defence site and although it is still the seat of the military in the Cape, it is essentially a museum, a historic tourist attraction with thousands of visitors passing through its walls annually.
We should not try to obliterate our past and erase the scars: on the contrary. The Castle – and the row of flags – have a place in our history.
They are a perfectly placed reminder of where we have come from as a nation.