As of August 21, 2019, South Africa’s Equality Court ruled it to be a crime to fly an apartheid-era flag in their nation.
What We Know:
- Under a different interpretation of the already existing Equality Act, Judge Phineas Mojapelo ruled that “gratuitous display visually communicates a message of the belief in or support of racism, white supremacy and the subjugation of the black population.” However, exceptions were made for instances when the flag were of public interest like art, academia, and journalism.
- Judge Mojapelo further explains his ruling by stating, “the dominant meaning attributable to the Old Flag, both domestically and internationally, is that it is for the majority of the South African population a symbol that immortalizes the period of a system of racial segregation, racial oppression through apartheid, of a crime against humanity and of South Africa as an international pariah state that dehumanized the black population”.
During the time of apartheid, 1948-1990, people of color were legally segregated from the white people in South Africa. Apartheid ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was nominated president.
- There has been some pushback to this though. Some people see the Old Flag as a “symbol of heritage.” One large organization that has opposing views is AfriForum. The group has been described as a white nationalist organization by some sites.
- Their website summarizes the group’s viewpoints. “That Afrikaners – who know no other home – can meaningfully continue to live freely, safely and prosperously at the southern tip of Africa in Afrikaners and in peaceful co-existence with other communities. Who you are today, what you have achieved and where you are going, is all due to your culture. At AfriForum, we cherish the Afrikaner culture and heritage with due regard for mutual respect and recognition between communities.”
- AfriForum’s Head of Policy and Action, Ernst Roets, openly expressed his view by saying, “Simply displaying it, in our view, is not sufficient for it to be hate speech. For it to be hate speech, it has to be coupled with some form of a call to action to inflict harm or something to that effect.”
- The US supports their thoughts. The act of wearing or displaying controversial symbols alone, is not a crime unless it is “accompanied by another illegal act, such as theft, assault or vandalism.”
- Despite these comments, Judge Mojapelo still recognized that the flag had underlying meanings that are “unfortunately still divisive.”
This instance brings up a lot of good questions about how we, as a society, treat documents and situations that can be sensitive.