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A campaign ad by a South African party showing a burning flag is called treason by the president

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A campaign video for South Africa’s opposition party showing the country’s flag in flames has stoked tensions just weeks ahead of national elections that are seen as the most pivotal since the end of the apartheid system of racial segregation 30 years ago.

The opposition Democratic Alliance says the ad is a symbolic depiction of what it claims will befall the country if the ruling African National Congress, or ANC, forms a coalition with two other parties to remain in power after the May 29 election.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who leads the ANC, has called the ad “despicable” and “treasonous.”

State broadcaster SABC said on Thursday it would not air the video because of an alleged “outcry from South Africans” and that airing it would only be “fueling the outrage.”

Some say the ad accurately portrays the deep problems of the African continent’s most advanced economy.

In the video, which has been posted on social media and on the Democratic Alliance’s social media pages, a narrator says: “This election is about survival.”

“Unite to rescue South Africa,” the voice adds as the video then plays in reverse and the flag emerges intact, with the caption “VOTE DA” over it.

The Democratic Alliance has come up with controversial ads in past elections but critics say burning the flag — for many a symbol of their liberation from apartheid — goes too far, though burning the national flag is not illegal in South Africa.

The multicolored flag was adopted after the first all-race elections that brought the ANC to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994 and officially ended apartheid.

“It is that flag that unites all of us,” Ramaphosa said earlier this week. “It is despicable that a political party, as it seeks to express itself, go and burn this symbol of our unity. The symbol of our existence as a nation. And I think it is treasonous.”

Racial undertones remain in the country, which is still uneasy about its history of brutal segregation. The opposition Democratic Alliance is the only one of South Africa’s main political parties that is led by a white politician and has sometimes been accused of prioritizing the interests of the country’s white minority.

Thuli Madonsela, who helped draft a new democratic constitution following the end of apartheid, said on the social media platform X that she is concerned the ad’s designers may harbor “unconscious rage against our flag.”

DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a campaign speech in the city of Johannesburg on Thursday that the video was “the most successful political advertisement in our democratic history,” claiming more than 4 million people have viewed it online and “millions more” have seen or heard it on other TV and radio stations.

He said Ramaphosa and the ANC’s history of corruption and mismanagement are to blame for the economic crisis that now plagues South Africa, with the official unemployment rate at 32% — the highest in the world. More than 30 million South Africans live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Analysts predict the election will be a turning point for South Africa and that the ANC will lose its parliamentary majority for the first time, requiring it to form a coalition to stay in power.

Some say the DA’s campaign ad is legitimate. On Wednesday, SABC published an interview with political analyst Solly Moeng, a Black political analyst.

“The country is in turmoil, the country is burning,” said Moeng. “The DA is portraying the country, the symbol of the country, which is in pain, turmoil, burning.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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