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Flagged into failure: Using flags to cover hopeless failure at effective governance

Lorenzo Davis writes that when a government is hopelessly failing at providing effective governance, it will seek projects to appeal to populist sentiments, such as the Monumental Flag Project. Picture: Siyasanga Mbambani/DoC.

Lorenzo Davis writes that when a government is hopelessly failing at providing effective governance, it will seek projects to appeal to populist sentiments, such as the Monumental Flag Project. Picture: Siyasanga Mbambani/DoC.

Published May 17, 2022


In a week that has seen more South Africans join the begging queue to make ends meet and increasing numbers of children die of hunger, AfriForum and the ANC government both found time to waste money on vanity projects to show their tiring disconnect from the people of South Africa.

The ANC government and AfriForum have taken on flag projects to advance their views on freedom of speech and national pride.

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AfriForum has gone to court to argue that the right to display the old apartheid government flag should be protected under free speech legislation. The ANC government wants to launch a 100m-tall Monumental Flag Project to rouse our national pride and foster social cohesion.

In the absence of progressive and grounded political intelligence, it is a common understanding that old school nationalism is the go-to place for out-of-touch politicians.

It is also true that when there is a growing loss of political capital, there is often an appeal to populist sentiments – and political symbols take centre stage in such appeals.

If ever there was a moment to peer into the soul of these two organisations and see their political bankruptcy, it is in the case of these two flag projects.

When a government is hopelessly failing at providing effective governance and services to its people, it will seek projects to appeal to populist sentiments.

This Monumental Flag Project is a case in point. While people are dying and disasters ravage the country, let's rouse our national pride that we have the largest flag and longest flag pole on the African continent. That should settle us all down and fill our bellies and water tanks.

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Similarly, as AfriForum moves increasingly into advanced stages of terminal hysteria, we see them trotting all over the right-wing world to seek audiences.

The old apartheid flag is a symbol of offence. Think Vlakplaas. Think murder and death with state approval. The new Monumental Flag Project is an illtimed and out of place vanity project. It should come as a consequence of pride-inspiring achievements, not as a tool to seduce us into celebrating non-existent national pride.

Our political bankruptcy is becoming more apparent to see each day. Our leaders lunging at extremist populisms to stay in power or appear relevant is at a fever pitch.

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All this is indicative of both a worried government and a restless populace. What is missing in this AfriForum vs ANC State Flag Fest is the vast majority of South Africans who should rise up in the middle of this big vs bruised ego competition and say to both: "Can you both just stop, for god's sake? This is tiring. We are hungry. We need houses and water."

In the 2021 Fragile State Index, South Africa is ranked 89th out of 150 countries. Yemen is ranked no 1 as the most fragile country. Over the past 10 years, we have moved up on the list of fragile states.

When will our leaders have a wake-up call that understands the desperate state we are in? Other than the Constitutional Court, Parliament and the executive arms of government are failing South Africa's people.

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The sad truth is that we have some of the world’s best scientists, academics and analysts. We have some of the most profound human rights advocates. And some of the most brilliant economists.

Yet we are scraping the bottom of the barrel to appoint people to help build a strong and prosperous country. Perhaps Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and Professor Thuli Madonsela are the new brand of independent thinking and human-centred leaders we need to arrive at a better sense-making place in our politics.

We need fewer flag fights and a lot more fervour to stave off the failure of our state and the ultimate fall of our flag.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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