CAPE TOWN - Sport, Art and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Tuesday the planned R22 million South African Monumental Flag project was for raising the foundational principles of the country’s democracy as enshrined in the constitution.
Delivering his opening political remarks in Parliament, Mthethwa said the monumental flag was one such monument to democracy.
“We are memorialising our democracy and we are building this monumental flag which will be there forever to inform society about this symbol,” he said.
“It is quite a clear marker of a break with the colonialism and apartheid. It epitomises the democratic values and other values,” he said.
Mthethwa made the statement when he led the department to brief the sport, arts and culture portfolio committee on the flag following the tabling of the budget last week.
The planned 100-metre high flag, which will be constructed at the Freedom Park in Pretoria, sparked outrage in some quarters with some saying millions were spent on vanity projects amid other pressing matters in the country.
Mthethwa said his department's mandate was to transform the heritage landscape, among other things, by building museums and monuments and changing apartheid names of places and cities and any other thing that dominated the public space.
He noted that the current public space in South Africa was still skewed against the majority.
“It still has those symbols which represent apartheid and colonialism. It is against that backdrop, therefore, in response to this very mandate, we have been building monuments, building museums and changing names,” he said.
He told the MPs his department had a fully-fledged section for heritage promotion and preservation.
There was also a programme called “#IAmTheFlag” in partnership with a variety of stakeholders such as the Department of Basic Education and artists to popularise, not only the flag, but the country’s symbols.
“We distribute passports of patriotism. It talks to the question of identity. It is important to define who we are through occupation of public spaces,” he said.
He also said the partnership has seen flags distributed to mini bus taxis and at more than 25 000 schools, and artists were educated about what is contained within the “passport of patriotism”.
“We have to ensure that we continue to rewrite the story of colonialism and apartheid in this country,” Mthethwa said.
Head of department, Vusumuzi Mkhize said it was not the first time the project was presented to the committee, citing annual performance plans from the past financial year.
Mkhize said the monumental flags were flags and flagpoles constructed at a massive scale.
“Such flags are a display of country prowess, pride, patriotism and also commemorate aspects of history worth monumentalising.
“The tallest flagpole in the world is found in Saudi Arabia (measuring 171m in height),” he said.
Mkhize explained that the benefit of such flags was that they advanced the profile of a country and were crucial landmarks and heritage sites.
“They promote tourism and contribute to job creation,” he said.
According to the feasibility study that has been undertaken, the construction of the SA Monumental Flag Project would create 143 jobs.
Mkhize told the MPs that the flagpole was expected to have a height of between 80m to 120m with dimensions of 10m to 15m.
“This indeed, will be a monument to democracy. It is going to be a symbol of our freedom,” he said.
He insisted that there was a need for the project based on the government and his department’s mandate.
Deputy director general, Vusithemba Ndima said no company had been appointed to do the actual construction and installation of the flag.
A company was appointed in 2020-21 to do a feasibility study at a cost of R1.7m.
Ndima said after consultative work, the cabinet approved the project in February.
He explained that the company to be appointed would now do geotechnical evaluation and environmental impact assessment studies.
R5m has been allocated for this in the 2022-23 budget and R17m for the actual construction in the next financial year.