- 25 April 2024 - Friends and graphic design students Kwenza Gcabashe (18), Khensani Mabasa (18) and Minenhle Ndlovu (19) posing against the South African flag in Florida road, commemorating the Freedom day on the 27th of AprilPicture: Doctor Ngcobo

- 25 April 2024 - Friends and graphic design students Kwenza Gcabashe (18), Khensani Mabasa (18) and Minenhle Ndlovu (19) posing against the South African flag in Florida road, commemorating the Freedom day on the 27th of AprilPicture: Doctor Ngcobo

Published May 7, 2024


It has been said that “a society is a great and silent compact between the dead, the living and the unborn.”

The national Flag is the visible evidence of this compact. It ties the generations together. It gives continuity to civilization. One of the events in the Olympic games of the ancient Greeks was symbolic of this compact between the dead, the living and the unborn.

It was a race in which a runner bore a flaming torch which he passed on to another member of his team at the end of his mile. Each runner dropped out in his turn, but the torch went forward to the end. It may be with each of us as South Africans, and it may be with our Flag. We are runners.

Only the living can carry the torch from the dead to the unborn.

The Flag is many things. It is a mark of identification of the ship at sea and of armies in the field. It is a means of communication. It is a mirror, reflecting to each person his own ideals and dreams. It is history. It is a mark of pride. It is an inspiration of what small children want their lives to be.

It is a memory at the end of life of all that life has been. It is a ribbon of honour for those who served it well – in peace and war. It also serves as a warning.

Compatriots are now familiar with the role a flag plays during the state, provincial and national funerals. The flag drapes the casket or coffin of the deceased to honour the memory of his/her service to the country.

The South African flag, which many fought for, and many died for, is a symbol of victory over the pariah state of apartheid.

To trivialize it is to, just like the racist Stellenbosch student, urinate on the graves of all those who paid the ultimate price in the gallant fight against the evil system of apartheid.

When the American, Justice Holmes, said, “We live by symbols,” – he did not mean human symbols alone. To some, it may be a bit of ‘coloured’ cloth, a small thing – but to the majority of South Africans, it is a symbol of significance. The use of freedom at her best, the right to think as we wish, the ease of worship, and many other inalienable rights, the use of these means and the exercise of these rights are some of the purposes for which our flag stands as a symbol.

One is not sure whether it is the hangover of apartheid that we still have people with warped political perspectives when it comes to our symbols our triumph over apartheid. To call June 16 th the Youth Day, Sharpeville massacre, the Human Rights Day, is tantamount to urinating the abiding legacy of the compatriots who were mowed down by the apartheid regime.

To some, our flag symbolizes nothing. They would easily cast it into dustbin or use it to scrub their kitchen floors. They would cast it into the gutter. The truth is, they are all grossly in error.

Our flag symbolizes far more than nothing, and far more than cars or latest fashion designs. The flag stands for the sustaining ideals that give us as a nation the strength to shed tears and to carry on; to sweat, and to bleed, and to suffer disappointment without failing; to strive, - to despair – to suffer heartache and heartbreak, but still with unrelenting grit and determination, to go on, and on  - and on.

It stands for the protection of the freedom of thought, expression, and worship, and it is the symbol for indescribable courage. It stands for resilience, for the strength of character, a strength woven into the very fabric of that being called South Africa – woven so tightly and set so firmly that it has become a part of the South African soul.

The South African flag is not a scrap of cloth as the current brouhaha about it makes it to be. It must be with deep conviction that we pledge our loyalty to our flag and, if necessary, with our very lives – that is how significant our flag is.

Other countries’ proud and patriotic devotion and to their national symbols put us to shame. When their athletes win in different sporting codes, the first thing they need to lay their hands on are their countries flags. When their flags are hoisted during award ceremonies, some of them even cry.

When they sing their national anthems, they stand still and sing with gusto. With us, it is a joke. With us, it is chewing bubblegum and making aimless noise all the way. No sense of pride at all.

No significance attached to either the flags or national anthem. Something is seriously wrong with our psyche!

The significance of a flag is best captured whenever a president of the country proclaims that the flags must be flown at half-mast as a sign of respect or mourning. To our flag up there, we should pledge that no weeds shall grow over the graves of our struggle stalwarts.

We should execute with proud and firm conviction that justifies the conceited efforts of those who have gone before – with the conviction that puts the thrill of life into our waving symbol, our flag, that composite representation of our collective character as South Africans.

With our flag unfurled, we pledge loyalty to our beautiful country. Indeed, our flag does more than emblazon a momentous and glorious history; it declares the purpose and heralds the ideals of our country.

Given the DA’s desecration of our flag, one could argue that our flag is neither half-mast nor falling. It is on the ground with its symbolic significance besmirched by this latest and unfortunate incident and the controversy of R22 million that was to be spent to colossally magnify it (ginormous 100-metre-tall flagpole) in the quest to ‘ostensibly encourage national cohesion and, simultaneously, to create didactic tourist destination.’

By having the Flag besmirched, our hard-fought democracy is also besmirched. It is ironical that it has taken the DA to desecrate our flag to help conscientize South Africans about the significance of our flag.

Given that the intended massive flagpole was never built, it will make sense that the money must instead be expended for a massive campaign to help educate the public about our national symbols whose meanings are hardly known by the majority of South Africans.

The urgent challenge is to “raise our flag from the ground and hoist it on new flagpoles – in the minds of South Africans so that it can remain etched in their memories. The raising and hoisting of the flag on the new flagpoles would be the demonstration or manifestation of love and patriotism and would require the commitment of both the government and the nation.

What the colours of the South African Flag mean. Green is considered to symbolize the fertility of the land lack symbolizes the African community.

Gold represents the mineral wealth of the country. Blue represents the endless possibilities for South Africans.

Just like America, South Africa must consider having annannual Flag Day programme where concerted efforts are made to arouse the people to a greater love and appreciation of their Flag. It is the South Africanism pure and undefiled, and not the watered-down version of patriotism that some good South Africans are content to call love of their country. I also believe that efforts should also be made to rekindle the love for our national anthem.

South Africans should know what the national anthem stands for. Is it merely a piece of bunting – a lifeless object? No. It is a great deal more than that. It is a great symbol, a symbol recognized throughout the world as the last best hope for peace and freedom. To proper respect in the South African flag and the ideals it represents, the citizens must be encouraged to participate actively in the affairs of the government, keep informed about public issues, join political parties, and vote faithfully and intelligently (the latter is written in jest).

Most importantly, we must not forget our basis obligation to live up to the ideals and principles symbolized by our flag. It is, however, the duty of the government to strengthen and expand the awareness of the significance of the Flag. By vigorously driving the re- education campaign, the government shall have succeeded in transmitting to posterity in the South African ideals of freedom, unsullied and undefiled. 

The question is not whether we can do it, the question is one of our collectives will do what we know must be done. I would like to sign off by citing an inspirational passage from Richard J. Whalen’s book Catch the Falling Flag.

Though the passage’s context is that of America, there are few lessons we could draw to enlighten ourselves (South Africans) about the pivotal importance of the Flag. The passage reads as follows: “We …owe our loyalty, not to the device worn by temporarily powerful men in Washington, but to the enduring ideals of individual freedom and limited, responsive government the flag represents.

The flag, as symbol of these ideals, is falling, and I have written to hasten the arrival of the courageous leadership needed to catch and raise it.”

Dr Vusi Shongwe is from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal Province