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Flying old flag a ‘hate crime’

Within hours of #BlackMonday, we were playing the old South African game of the man, not the ball, says the writer. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

Within hours of #BlackMonday, we were playing the old South African game of the man, not the ball, says the writer. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

Published Nov 4, 2017


It's been an angry week this week down here on the southern tip of Africa. I’ve been angry too. I’ve been angry at white people.

It’s easy to rail at racists, especially the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging ones who wave the old flag, burn the new one and sing Die Stem, all its verses in Afrikaans, without Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika prefacing it or the English verse ending it.

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Getting furious at them is like taking sweets from kids.

No, the real problem is the people who would normally sneer at them - deride their two-tone khaki shirts, kak haircuts and vellies - but then share the videos on their social media timelines.

The same people who all of a sudden can’t understand what the fuss is all about, because "it’s just a flag" or "just a song".

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Here’s the irony: it’s the new South Africa that actually lets people brandish the old flag or sing Die Stem.

The constitution of "our" democracy ensures people are free to believe what they want to, to associate with who they like as long as it doesn’t incite war or racial hatred.

Well. #BlackMonday didn’t incite war, but it did stir up a lot of racial polarisation.

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It’s crass hypocrisy to ask the rest of the country to care about the deaths of a group of people as fellow South Africans (even though the victim pool is almost exclusively white), and then rub their noses in it by flying the very flags and singing the very songs of a time when the people you want to care about you all of a sudden actually had no say in their country.

People who were, in the immortal words of Sol Plaatje, "pariahs in the lands of their birth".

We live in a new country; the past should be a different country. We have a flag that is made up of the old Oranje Blanje Blou, the Vierkleurs, the ANC flag and even the IFP.

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It wasn’t supposed to last, it was an interim flag - but it was so successful that we’ve kept it.

Oh yes, and it was designed by a white guy too. It’s the same with the anthem.

It’s an amalgam, and even though some black South Africans choke to sing Die Stem, they actually can; unlike many white South Africans, who still can’t get their tongues around some of the trickier Sotho stanzas.

For rugby lovers like me, the Springbok still exists on the jersey - a gift to inclusivity that hasn’t really been properly acknowledged.

The old flag is an abomination. Like the confederate flag in America it is deeply divisive, deeply hurtful to the vast majority of South Africans who suffered under its yoke.

Flying it, brandishing it - even owning one - should be declared a hate crime. The only place you should be able to see it is in a museum.

But the real reason that I was so angry is that this racism plays into the hands of political opportunists. Within hours of #BlackMonday, we were playing the old South African game of the man not the ball.

People are being murdered and no one is doing enough about it to stop it. But that message got totally lost this week.

If we don’t wake up and finally emigrate to the new South Africa, we might wake up one day and find Plaatje’s statement actually applies to us - and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

* Kevin Ritchie is Independent Media’s Gauteng regional editor. 

Saturday Star

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