The banning of the South African Apartheid Flag as a symbol of hate now historically stands in stark and judicial contrast to the LGBTQI Rainbow flag – in effect expressly ruled a symbol of love!
The Black Monday protests, which flared-up in October 2017 in South Africa, forced the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SA Human Rights Commission to take action. What started out as an impassioned plea to take action against a rise in farm murders descended into open displays of the Apartheid flag, and in some cases, defenses of the Apartheid regime itself.
AfriForum proved to be the biggest defenders of the apartheid flag. Deputy CEO Ernst Roets has previously argued that keeping the symbol would be an expression of free speech, which must not be conflated with hatred. However Afriforum lost the argument – and the Court ruled to BAN the Flag as an expression of hate! More here.
As part of their efforts AfriForum went after the LGBTQI community by trying to get the Rainbow flag banned. A worthless strategy, as it turned out. The LGBTQI community fought back with thanks to Johannesburg Pride. Johannesburg Pride posted this on their Facebook page:
“Over a year ago the Nelson Mandela Foundation submitted a motion to have the old South African flag banned. The motion was followed with an outcry from Afriforum to have the Rainbow Flag 🏳️🌈 banned should the old (Apartheid) flag be banned. Today the Equality Court passed judgment deeming only the old flag hate speech. Baker McKenzie, on behalf of the LGBT community. We thank you Baker McKenzie 🙌🏽”
This ruling, despite the fact that the relief sought was not a ban, serves to in effect BAN the gratuitous display of the Apartheid flag, with exceptions, such as display in a Museum:-
I was contacted by Kaye Ally, who led Jo’Burg Pride’s charge against AfriForum for my input and so my Affidavit – below- became part of the motion to thwart AfriForum’s attempt to use our rainbow for their insidious hateful quest to keep the apartheid symbol alive.
And My friend Gilbert Baker would be so proud, with so many to thank who worked to ensure our Pride!
In Support of Denouncing the Apartheid Era South African Flag and Its Comparison to the LGBTI Rainbow Flag
by Melanie Nathan
A. 1. My name is Melanie Nathan. I was born in Johannesburg. I spent my primary school years in Port Elizabeth until I returned to Johannesburg at age 13, where I completed high school and completed my B.A. and LL.B degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, graduating in 1980. I served two years Articles of Clerkship in Benoni under attorney Manfred Favish, passed my Bar Exam and was admitted into the practice of law at the Supreme Court in Johannesburg in 1982. I practiced law for several years in Johannesburg and Pretoria before moving to the United States in October, 1985.
2. Today I am the Executive Director of the African Human Rights Coalition, based in the United States of America. We provide services, resources, referrals and advocacy to Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people in several countries in Africa, including South Africa.
3. I am an internationally recognized speaker and writer as well as an award-winning activist, personally involved in advocacy for equality and human rights of LGBTI people, globally. I am a former human rights commissioner in Marin County, California and past Vice President of the San Francisco Pride Board and Celebration Committee. I have worked with LGBTI activists and organizations in South Africa on issues impacting the LGBTI community, including the issue of homophobia and so called “corrective rape” against lesbians, assisting asylum seekers and refugees and mentoring on issues pertaining to advocacy.
4. I was appointed as Cape Town Pride keynote speaker and Grand Marshall in 2011 and have spoken in South Africa at conferences and on panels, and also delivered guest lectures at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth and WITS University, Johannesburg.
B. In making this affidavit my citizenship and ties to South Africa enables me to provide a unique perspective on the issue of the importance of the Rainbow Flag both locally and from a global perspective, and as such declare any comparison of the Rainbow Flag to the Apartheid era South African flag, homophobic, hateful and at best, ill-informed.
5. The Rainbow Flag
5.1 In 1978, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, who died in 2017, designed what is believed to be the first modern pride flag by combining at first 8 stripes which has been reduced to the widely accepted 6 stripes. The different colors are often associated with “diversity” in the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex(LGBTI) community, but actually have meaning, with each color representing aspects of life: The red stands for life, orange is for healing, yellow represents sunlight, green reflects nature, blue is symbolic of peace and harmony and purple denotes the human spirit. The original pride flag was seen in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. It has now been adopted by Pride celebrations across the world. Baker’s flag became widely and globally associated with LGBT rights and equality related causes, a symbol of pride that has become ubiquitous in the decades since its debut. Despite other historic uses for the rainbow flag it has now become the universally global symbol used to express acceptance and equality for LGBTI people. The flag represents pride, acceptance and peaceful coexistence.
A quote from Gilbert Baker:
“It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis — it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]. It came from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler. We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things.”
Why it is Important to embrace and fly the Rainbow Flag in South Africa:
6.1 The Rainbow Flag stands in stark contrast to the old Apartheid era South African flag, which by virtue of its history of oppression serves to remind of the inhumane policies that discriminated against the majority of South Africa’s people, and therefor tantamount to hate speech, endorsing injustice, discrimination and the violence of that era’s policies. The Rainbow flag celebrates freedom and equality for sexuality and gender identity minorities, and acceptance of this community of South Africans who were further discriminated against during the Apartheid era simply based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
6.2 South Africa is a global leader on LGBT rights: When Nelson Mandela was elected President of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994, he stood in solidarity with his LGBTI friends and fellow citizens. Under his leadership, the South African constitution included sexual orientation and gender among the enumerated classes protected from discrimination. This ultimately resulted in the national repeal of bans on military service by gay and lesbian people and a 2005 decision by the South African High Court extending marriage protections to same-sex couples. President Nelson Mandela’s legacy for the LGBTI community goes far beyond the formal legal protections he embraced. He believed deeply in the commitment to equality for all South Africans:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela
As such, as a global leader, this Internationally recognized symbol should be revered and hoisted like a ‘badge of honor’ by South Africa. This serves as an example to countries that have continued to criminalize LGBTI people based on their sexuality and gender identity. Attaining equality around the world is an ongoing quest: The Rainbow Flag is an important symbol of acceptance, pride and equality for a marginalized group of people who have been historically persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity, through history in some countries by the draconian Penal Codes of Colonizers. Currently 74 countries still criminalize people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. 34 African countries still criminalize LGBTI people, causing profound persecution by government and community actors. South Africa serves as a beacon of hope to these other LGBTI communities on the Continent, and it should not reject or mischaracterize the crucial symbol that serves as such. When the flag is flown, its shows support for the basic human right to one’s innate sexuality and gender identity and the pride that attaches to full acceptance and equality.
7. Internationally recognized symbol: Global Governments recognize the Rainbow Flag as a symbol of freedom and equality for LGBT people and to that end have allowed the display of the flags at prominent times: There are many examples of the display of the Rainbow Flag by government bodies around the world choosing to do so as a sign of leadership and acceptance. Here are a few examples: In 2014, the British government ordered rainbow flags flown over two prominent government buildings to mark the country’s first same-sex weddings. Annually Pride Month is celebrated at City Halls across the world with the raising of the Rainbow Flag for the entire duration of the month. One such example is San Francisco, where the Mayor of the City annually hosts a celebratory ceremony raising the Rainbow flag for the month of June.
8. In conclusion: As a South African who lived in the country during the Apartheid era, I associate the Apartheid era South African flag with autocracy, oppression, denial of human rights, injustice, inequality and hate. As an active anti-Apartheid student during the Soweto Riots, even though I was a member of the privileged white community, when I look back at that flag, it triggers the pain of those times and the awful things I witnessed then and later as a young lawyer. For me, though I suffered minimally compared to my fellow South Africans, I still have nightmares and visions of the small children subjected to “Pass Laws,” being brought out of the cells on Monday mornings after an entire weekend in the jail, at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court, because all they were trying to do was visit a parent in a ‘white area,’ as imposed by the Group Areas Act. I remember the looks on the children’s faces, their suffering and pain and remember how helpless I felt. That old flag stood in that very court room – supporting, condoning and attempting to validate those acts of oppression, under the cruel pretense of justice.
That Apartheid era flag has no place in our society at all. I believe that as a symbol of oppression it actually expresses hate when flown gratuitously. Instead it is now an historic symbol, unique to South African history, that should be reserved for museums and historic lessons, in the same way as the Nazi swastika and flag.
By comparison the Rainbow flag, one that symbolizes global acceptance, leadership, diversity, peace, love and pride, should never be used comparatively in this context– and to do such calls into question the motive of those making this comparison. Such is indicative of the bad faith of those making the comparison toward sexuality minorities, only serving in to express homophobia, transphobia, and hate. The oppressive nature of those seeking to make this comparison is evidenced by their comparison, thereby impacting their credibility as to their reasoning for wanting to gratuitously fly the Apartheid era South African Flag.
I fully support the use of the Rainbow flag for all the reasons given above and hope that the South African Apartheid era flag is laid to rest in the Museums where we are able to learn from its lessons, rather than be triggered by the pain it has caused in our past.
Dated on this the 11th day of July, 2018.
Signed: Melanie Nathan
READ THE JUDGEMENT HERE:
By MELANIE NATHAN
Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition