About time we ask questions

The Democratic South African flag.
The Democratic South African flag.
Image: Gallo Images

In philosophy, it is often said, that the question is more important than the answer. However, an inquiring mind out not to be content simply with unanswered questions. And there were many unanswered questions this week.

As our democracy matures, its institutions get tested by people and various interest groups. We too, as citizens, test each other.

At times, we seem happy with the pace at which we experience change and yet we get stuck in a rut in other areas. The important questions, whose answers must inform the mutations necessary for our growth and development, are never asked. Sometimes we wait for too long to ask.


LISTEN | SA torn over banning of Apartheid-era flag


Take a decision in the courts, an important terrain of struggle of late, that the gratuitous display of the old South African flag constitutes hate speech. While long overdue and welcome, it offers us an opportunity to ask more questions.

We must be grateful that the Nelson Mandela Foundation took up the issue on behalf of many offended former victims of apartheid. Yet, one of the questions that must open up further discussion is: did we, the victims of this most vile of systems, have to wait 25 years into democracy to ensure we are not disrespected like this?

Why did we allow it? What about us, before the Mandela Foundation did something, said it was OK for others to gratuitously wave this symbol of hate in our faces? Did we think that those who hold it dear, like the AfriForum-types, will be possessed of a particular thoughtfulness in spite of the evidence before us?

Isn't that the same reason why Ernst Roets, of AfriForum, could ridicule this judgment with such ease moments after it was handed down - sending a tweet of a scantily dressed lady in apartheid flag colours?

We need to spend a bit more time reflecting on the things that hold us back, the things that make us perpetual victims even in an era where we have political power to make laws.

We are so stuck in our everyday lives that we don't ask the questions that must inform the mutations necessary for our growth and development.

Trite though it may appear, Roets' decision to ridicule the courts is not merely an action in contempt of the processes of the court, but in contempt of all of us pained by what that flag represents.

He did it because he knows the consequences for him are not significant enough to stop his display of hatred for black souls.

Related to this was Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi's renaming of Hoerskool Hendrick Verwoerd to Rietondale High on Friday. It is significant that throughout our 25 years of democracy, there existed a school in Tshwane, not too far from the seat of power, named after the father figure of apartheid.

Mandela became president and retired. Thabo Mbeki was president for nine years and made way for Kgalema Motlanthe who, too, made way for Jacob Zuma. In all this time, there is no overarching government programme to rid government structures at the very least of offensive names. Why?

As Lesufi stood before black children at what was, until this week, Hoerskool Verwoerd, what damage has this done to these kids? Our schools, our streets, our parks in fact - the public sphere - are home to names that must offend our sensibilities. Yet, not much is done. Why?

Our freedom came at great cost. The one thing that slowly eats at my heart is the fact that some freedom fighters still lie buried in unmarked, shallow graves outside our country.

Worse, some families don't have the slightest idea what happened to their children. Many died. Others were tortured. Some remain missing. Yet, it beggars belief how we take for granted this opportunity to lead, to change our country in the image of ourselves.

We may celebrate Rietondale as a new name for Verwoerd High, but that is insufficient. We must demand an audit of offensive names. We are not short of leaders who gave much of themselves so others could live better lives.

Samora Machel, Steve Biko, Winnie Mandela, Onkgopotse Tiro, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe, Oliver Tambo, Mosibudi Mangena, Caiphus Semenya, Jomo Sono, Miriam Makeba and many others.

The idea of naming shacklands after our heroes while naming major roads the N1, N2 or M1 is a form of self-hate Biko cautioned against. In my book, even that Rietondale school must be named after someone like Machel or Biko.

Why not? The question, I repeat, is often more important than the answer.

If Verwoerd's people killed Biko and Machel for helping bring about democracy, why would Machel's name not rise where Verwoerd's name stood proud at a school in Pretoria?

Lastly, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) took a decision this week that Kiswahili will be the first indigenous African language to become an official language for the regional body. This is a big, positive decision. The official SADC languages (French, Portuguese and English) are the languages of the region's colonisers.

Knowing what we know about the importance of language, the question must still be asked: why did it take us so long to affirm that which is our own, as Africans? Why do we seem so comfortable in what ought to make us uncomfortable? It is important that we must ask questions that help us understand the relationship we, as victims of apartheid, have with ourselves. Our self-love is in short supply.

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