The old flag was first flown in 1928, a combination of the Dutch orange, blue and white with the Union Jack, and the Afrikaner republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. At the time, it symbolized a break from the British Empire, under which Afrikaners themselves were oppressed. The country’s flag was changed in 1994 to the bright, multi-coloured flag South Africa flies now, but the old flag has surfaced time and again, most notably on the jacket of American white supremacist mass-murderer Dylann Roof.

Like the Confederate Flag, those who still fly the flag have argued it is a symbol of cultural heritage, irrespective of its racist history. That, however, dismisses the symbolism of the flag that reinforced the notion that the white minority had a divine right to South Africa and its resources above all others, the very spirit of apartheid.

South Africa’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of expression, even if it means flying the old flag. However, just because something is a right, argues constitutional expert Pierre de Vos, doesn’t mean it’s right. Hiding behind the argument of free speech is the same logic employed by tiki-torch bearing white supremacists in the US who, under the more innocuous term “alt-right”, put on a display that seemed to celebrate America’s dark, racist history, when black people were property and rights were only for whites.

For many black South Africans, the old apartheid flag honors a time when every facet of their lives were subjugated according to the color of their skin. It reminds them of a time when they were vulnerable to state-led violence, and their killings were not documented. Hoisting the flag in a post-apartheid South Africa reads as a protest against progress in the country, irrespective of the intentions of the demonstrators.

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