South African fans sing the national anthem before an international soccer friendly. Inclusion of the Afrikaans verse was a gesture of the most enormous magnitude in its generosity and forgiveness, says the writer. File photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - The government will spend R34m to have the South African flag flying at every school and teach everyone to sing the national anthem, the arts and culture ministry said on Thursday.

Minister Nathi Mthethwa said this was aimed at forging a national identity and unity.

“It is imperative that South Africans know who they are and know their national anthem. People should be encouraged to know those things that unite the country, to have that oneness as a nation,” he told reporters ahead of his budget vote speech in Parliament.

Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi said the campaign started last month when flags were handed to a primary school and a training college in Kimberley.

“Every school should fly the South African national flag,” she said.

“We are quite aware that our youth do not know the history of this country, especially how it came about that we got the freedom, and now we've got these flags they can't analyse those colours, it is just something that is beautiful.

She added: “We're also having publications on the national symbols and we also have got the national anthem tool-kits that (are) teaching how to do it properly.”

Many South Africans mistakenly raised their fist or put their right hand over their heart when singing the national anthem, she said.

“It is part of their education ... We must do it correctly... they must know that when you sing the national anthem it is like a prayer.”

Mthethwa said the ministry would increase efforts to protect the country's cultural heritage, honour the heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle in an appropriate and accessible manner, and ensure history was no longer taught from a colonial perspective.

But he added that he had no intention of removing symbols of the country's colonial era Ä including the statue of Boer war general and Union prime minister Louis Botha at Parliament, which the Economic Freedom Fighters recently said should be taken away.

“There will be no removing of symbols of the past. It is part of us as a nation.”

Mthethwa dismissed the most recent controversy over Die Stem, which saw Steve Hofmeyr sing only the old national anthem and the EFF call for it to be scrapped from the new one, as a storm in a teacup.

“We are in search of our identity as a nation. That is not going to be an easy journey (but) no individual can divide the nation.”

Asked for his views of artistic freedom of expression, two years after the ruling party went to court to have Brett Murray's artwork The Spear banned, the former police minister suggested it should be practised with respect for efforts at nation building.

“The emphasis we are making as South Africans is that whatever we do in our lives, different social stations, has to accord with the democracy we are building, with the sensitivity of building a nation with our programmes on social cohesion and so on.

“We will not be able to dictate to artists 'do this and do that' but what is important is that we have an agenda, an agenda of transformation, an agenda spelled out in the Constitution of healing the pains of the past and taking our country forward. So that is what we would wish to see in the life of arts and culture being expressed.”