Court upholds ban on South Africa’s apartheid-era flag


CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal on Friday upheld a ruling that the “gratuitous” public display of the country’s old apartheid-era flag amounts to hate speech and racial discrimination and can be prosecuted.

The Supreme Court didn’t, however, give a ruling on whether displaying the national flag from South Africa’s era of brutal racial segregation in the privacy of a home should also be considered hate speech or discriminatory.

Arguments over that specific matter should first be presented to the lower court that initially banned the flag in 2019, the Supreme Court said.

The decision on the public showing of the old flag, which was South Africa’s national flag from 1928 until it was abolished when the country achieved democracy in 1994, upheld that ruling given by the Equality Court four years ago.

Afriforum, a lobby group that says it represents the interests of South Africa’s white Afrikaans people, challenged the banning of the flag in the Supreme Court, saying such a “wide-reaching ban” was an infringement of the right to freedom of expression.

But in its ruling, the Supreme Court said that “those who publicly hold up or wave the old flag convey a brazen, destructive message that they celebrate and long for the racism of our past.”

The fate of the orange, white and blue flag has been a highly charged issue in South Africa, particularly for the country’s Black majority, many of whom view it as an overt symbol of the institutionalized racism and brutality of the apartheid regime.

The apartheid system officially came into being in 1948 and was formally dismantled when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, when Blacks were allowed to vote for the first time. South Africa adopted its current flag at the time of those first all-race elections.

For some South Africans, the apartheid-era flag has similar connotations to the swastika flag of Nazi Germany.

Arguing in support of the ban, the South African Human Rights Commission referred to the case of Dylann Roof, the white man convicted and sentenced to death for the 2015 racist killings of nine Black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, as an example of how the apartheid-era flag retained clear connections to violent white supremacists.

Roof once appeared in a photograph wearing a jacket with the flag on it.


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