It’s now illegal to display the apartheid flag anywhere in South Africa. The landmark ruling was made by the Equality Court Wednesday morning in Johannesburg.
Judge Phineas Mojapelo, who took only two hours from when the hearing started to reach his ruling, said:“Displaying [the apartheid flag] is destructive of our nascent non-racial democracy.”
The Apartheid flag is gone!— NelsonMandela (@NelsonMandela) August 21, 2019
The Equality Court has today ruled that gratuitous displays of the old flag are legally hate speech! A win for democracy and all South Africans!#MoreThanAFlagpic.twitter.com/tdDLdz2IEw
From now onwards, public displays of the apartheid flag will constitute hate speech aimed at the country’s black citizens and other racial groups that were marginalised by the decades-long racist rule of the National Party.
However, the flag will still be on display in museums and other places of historic interest.
Apartheid was implemented in 1948 and founded on the notion that people of different races are not equal, and in particular the assertion that South Africa’s black population was inferior to white people.
As a result, black and other marginalised people were forcibly removed from prime urban areas and relocated to townships.
Apartheid also determined the quality of services that were made accesible to black people, and essentially fostered social and economic separation; apartheid laws governed every aspect of black people’s lives from education and spatial planning to political activity, voting rights, and job and economic opportunities.
Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa became a democracy, but its flag was never banned.
This began to change in February 2018 when the Nelson Mandela Foundation made an application to the Equality Court, asking for public displays of the apartheid flag to constitute hate speech.
At the time, the Foundation’s spokesperson, Luzuko Koti, said: "It is time to acknowledge that the old flag is a symbol of what was a crime against humanity and that its gratuitous public display celebrates that crime and humiliates everyone who fought against it, especially black South Africans.”
The application was opposed by AfriForum, an Afrikaans-interest group, saying banning the flag would amount to infringing on freedom of expression.
In April of this year, AfriForum’s lawyer, Mark Oppenheimer, said banning the flag would be unconstitutional.
We welcome the judgement handed down by the Equality Court which ruled that the gratuitous display of the #ApartheidFlag constitutes prohibited hate speech, unfair discrimination & harassment; in the spirit of the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. pic.twitter.com/eeEpw0YMBv— Min. Nathi Mthethwa (@NathiMthethwaSA) August 21, 2019
He said: “AfriForum’s point is not that it ought to be banned, the point is that people express different views in society that you tolerate, that you can say, ‘I think waving that flag is despicable, repulsive, and offensive and I will fight to the death for your right to do it’. Because that’s what it’s like to live in a modern democracy, we respect these differences.”
In his ruling today, Mojapelo stated: “[Displaying the flag] is an affront to the spirit and values of botho/ubuntu, which has become a mark of civilised interaction in post-apartheid South Africa.”
Ubuntu, or botho, is the Southern African principle of togetherness, and calls on all individuals to act for the collective good of society. It’s a value that was cherished by Nelson Mandela and essentially calls for all of us to honour each other’s humanity.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation welcomed the ruling. However, CEO Sello Hatang said it’s the first of several steps that still need to be taken to create the South Africa of Mandela’s vision.
He added that the Foundation would like to engage with AfriForum and similar organisations on nation-building.
"We have no other home but this home, and we might as well make it work for all of us; and [the new flag] is the only flag that we recognise, and we should all be proud of it instead of using flags that are about pain," he said.
AfriForum is yet to look at the ruling in depth and comment on it, according to deputy CEO Ernst Roets. However, he said the organisation has always discouraged public displays of the flag.