Banning the old flag will do nothing for democracy - Businesslive

26 August 2019 - The choice irony of recent days is the fervent approval by the EFF of the Equality Court’s ruling on the old SA flag, on the very grounds of muddled thinking about free speech that is being directed against the EFF itself.

Michael Morris

The choice irony of recent days is the fervent approval by the EFF of the Equality Court’s ruling on the old SA flag, on the very grounds of muddled thinking about free speech that is being directed against the EFF itself.

And the same is true for the judgment’s many other apologists, who haplessly celebrate an incursion into their own freedom to say what they say, without apparently realising it.

They might ask themselves how certain they can be that a painting depicting ANC or EFF luminaries draped in the old flag to reflect, say, their cleaving to apartheid-era racial classification would be countenanced as steering patriotically clear of the evil of gratuitous display. Or, indeed, whether a reconciliatory dividend would accrue from squandering court resources on determining what “gratuitous” actually means.

Those applauding the limited ban seem not only nervously uncertain of the merits of their ideals or unconvinced of their ability to advance them but delusional in thinking that the tiny minority of nostalgists who might wish to “gratuitously” wave an outdated flag is anything like a threat in 2019. And they must be especially deluded if they believe curbing such displays will make any contribution to enhancing the democratic project — when, in important ways, the reverse is likely true.

Aside from the essential principle that practising liberty is itself the process of triumphing over oppression, misguidedly celebrating the very opposite serves only to distract us from the unignorable threats to a democracy that serves everyone is “inclusive”, affirms the pact of reconciliation and actually works.

The hurt and harm caused by apartheid is too readily brushed aside or discounted nowadays; there can never be enough remembering to acknowledge it. But the truly effective acknowledgment, which is in our power to realise, lies in reversing the effects of the past.

The real threats facing us today come not from an unacknowledged past (or a narrow-minded hankering for the worst of it), but the failures of 25 years of democratic rule to forge the counterproposition — a free, prospering, nonracial SA.

Two facts, set one against the other, offer a critical insight. On the expanded definition SA has 10-million unemployed people — economic outsiders who can have little sense of belonging and less to celebrate. Second, the country has created an average of about 100,000 net new jobs per point of GDP growth per year. At the present growth rate those 10-million are in for a long wait.

Yet despite the significant damage to investor sentiment and domestic economic competitiveness, the explicitly racialist struggle nostalgia of the ANC sustains the ideas that eroding property rights is needed to overcome “land theft”; that individuals’ savings should be redirected into failing, corruption-prone state projects; that private health care robs the poor of better health outcomes; and that demonstrably ineffective race-based empowerment will stay despite its feeble results.

As colleague Terence Corrigan wrote last week: “A focus on race has the seductive power of suggesting that the pernicious legacy of the past is somehow being tackled head-on. Yet race-based policies have done little to deal with the country’s developmental problems ...”

Unless we vigorously speak up, that “evil” flag will stir fitfully in the public imagination as the symbol of what’s really wrong with SA, exactly as its detractors intend.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2019-08-26-michael-morris-banning-the-old-flag-will-do-nothing-for-democracy/

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