OPINION

The forgotten and unexpected history of the Union Flag

James Myburgh |

22 June 2022

James Myburgh examines the basis of the NMF’s ongoing legal efforts to criminalise displays of the so-called “apartheid flag”

On the early morning of Wednesday 25th October 2017, a group of armed men broke into the house of Joubert Conradie, 47, his wife Marlene, and their two children Hannes and Jana on their farm in Klapmuts outside Stellenbosch. When Joubert went to investigate he was shot and mortally wounded, dying soon after in hospital.

Later that day one of Conradie’s friends, Chris Loubser, posted an emotional video appeal on social media, calling for South Africans to wear black on Monday to mourn the victims of the ongoing farm murder epidemic in South Africa.

An event was then organised over a Facebook page – titled “Genoeg is genoeg” – in terms of which protesters would meet in Klapmuts and then drive in convoy through to Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. Similar events were also spontaneously and independently organised elsewhere in the country, many by AfriForum, with protesters sometimes blocking roads.

Across the country the protesters wore black clothes and carried white crosses, representing the almost three thousand people murdered in some twenty-to-thirty thousand farm attacks since the unbanning of the liberation movements in early 1990.

In the hundreds of images that were taken and circulated of the protests that day, there are all of four verified images of the Union Flag – the old South African national flag – two on clothing. There was an old man photographed on the back of a bakkie somewhere in Pretoria at a shopping mall, on the way to one of the protests. At a protest at a bridge over the R59 outside Vereeniging where the road had also been blocked, the Union Flag was photographed at a distance (so the image of the flag is tiny); it had been hung over the railings by unknown people. At the same protest one of the attendees wore a somewhat faded black t-shirt with an image of the flag, a noose, and the text “Gatvol for farm murders”.

These images were all taken in the early morning. Finally, a female biker from Kraaifontein was interviewed by a News24 journalist at or on her way to the Cape Town protest. She had the flag embroidered as a small patch on her leather biker’s waistcoat. When asked about it she said that she had felt safe under that flag. Asked why she hadn’t taken it off, given the organisers had said they didn’t want any apartheid-era memorabilia displayed at the protest, she said she wasn’t going cut it off “just for a meeting”.

–>

Apart from that one example, there is no other recorded image of the flag being worn or displayed at either the Klapmuts/Cape Town or AfriForum protests. The R59 protest, where Die Stem was also sung by protesters, was one organised by persons unknown, not AfriForum. So why were there so many reports, and so much outrage on social media, over the old flag being extensively “waved” and “flown” at the protests?

Essentially this was the result of a cynical but clever influence operation being run on social media by people opposed to the protests and who were seeking to discredit them. Notably, the leading social media influencer and EFF activist Tumi Sole was seeking out and then circulating to his many followers any such images from early that morning. Other influencers also joined in, as did the DA and its leaders, which was seeking at the time to distance itself from its white support base.

There was little to work with after the early morning, and so old images of the Union Flag being displayed from years before started being used instead. In particular, it was the striking images of the old flag being very proudly displayed (or worn), set against the new flag being torched, which really ignited mass outrage nationally.