DA burning flag ad sparks debate on free speech and national identity – Sara Gon

Criticism has arisen over a Democratic Alliance advertisement depicting a burning flag, prompting debate on free expression and political messaging. Critics accuse the ANC of hypocrisy and mishandling national symbols and state-owned airlines. Privatization is suggested as a solution to these issues, with emphasis placed on earning pride in a flag through national success rather than governmental mismanagement.

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By Sara Gon*

The journalistic left and academia, together with hypocritical bog-standard ANC electioneers, have lost their collective virtue signalling minds.

The ANC one can understand; their professed high dudgeon is an electioneering ploy that conceals envy. If it had served the ANC to create an advert pouring scorn on the DA by burning the flag, it would surely have used it.

Clearly the problem is that it can’t, because it can’t accuse anyone else of burning the country to the ground. It only has itself to blame.

The ad was not strictly my cup of tea: I probably would have gone with advertising that aimed at the ‘positive’, for those who desperately need an alternative to what the ANC and its tripartite alliance have offered in the past 15 years.

Anyway, maybe there is some distinct marketing sense in such ‘inflammatory’ (pun intended) advertising, and presumably it will resonate with its target market. 

But its brilliance lies in its ability to − again, pun intended − fan the flames of  pomposity with which the DA’s critics express their disgust.

The DA couldn’t have asked for better exposure − the opinion-makers rose to the bait. 

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Zizi Kodwa, the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture (the ministry to which political careers are sent to die) is considering taking ‘further steps … against the abhorrent and unpatriotic political advertisement by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which shows the burning of the South African flag’.

It shouldn’t be necessary, Minister Kodwa, to clarify some things about your claims, but here goes.

First, ‘abhorrent’ is an opinion, not a basis for action. You’re absolutely entitled to feel the burning of our flag to be an abhorrent act. However, burning a curated image to make a point is not the same as burning the an actual flag. 

Even if it was, which it wasn’t, if anyone wants to burn a flag, their freedom of expression must allow it. After all, it is a symbol, and a potent one at that, of  dissatisfaction with the ANC’s governance. It’s not unlike the burning of, say, the Israeli or American flags, which currently is often meant to communicate a desire to destroy actual countries or citizens.

Second, in his press release, the Minister said: ‘The desecration of national symbols should not be part of election campaigning and should not be tolerated in any instance. We are taking steps to ensure that there are consequences for such actions. It is our duty to ensure the protection of our national symbols which are a product of our hard-earned democracy’.

Seeing this coming from the minister of the party that has single-handedly ruined the economy of this country and the prospects for its people, I am shocked!

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But Kodwa can’t resist virtue signalling, in misperceiving a curated version of a symbol, which rises from the ashes (so to speak) at the end of the advert to signal that the DA can reverse the rot. Hyperventilating over the symbolism hides the reality that what the advert represents is the hard truth that we face in this election.

Third, the ‘desecration’ of symbols isn’t actually true – the flag wasn’t literally desecrated. But the reference to ‘desecration’ is an example of the socialist desire to replace symbols of religion with symbols of the revolution. Flags are identifiers; they are symbols to coalesce around but, conversely, they are  symbols representing government and as such, ‘desecration’ is also an expression of anger. 

Finally, Mr. Minister, remember what Samuel Johnson and Oscar Wilde said: ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ and ‘patriotism is the virtue of the vicious’, respectively.

Symbols can be the embodiment of all that a country represents, good and bad. I remember the pride I felt at international airports seeing our flag on South African Airways (SAA) planes in the early 2000s. 

However, after SAA had been ruined by former President Jacob Zuma’s appointment of his sociopathic ex-lover Dudu Myeni, and Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan had trashed the SAA flag by insisting on repeatedly bailing it out of ANC ruin using our hard-earned taxes, the flag was well and truly soiled. 

Gordhan archaically views our national carrier in the way once described by someone as ‘an embassy with wings, transporting culture, cuisine, commerce and goodwill around the world’.   

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Stuff and nonsense! National airlines are not a necessity nor is it the government’s duty to run them. Given the reputation of much of our diplomatic corps, a little flag-burning is the least we could do.  

Personally, I find the sight of the national flag on SAA planes today evokes a sense of severe embarrassment and sadness arising from Gordhan’s persistence in eating public money to advance socialist symbolism. 

In 2020 there were 61 state-owned airlines and this list of worthies included India, Romania, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan, most of which were deeply indebted. 

Of a list of 150 flag-carrying airlines, the following privatised or minority government-owned airlines are still identified with their country − Air Canada, Qantas, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Aer Lingus, El Al, Aeroméxico, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, China Air (Taiwan), Austrian Airlines and Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

No one would be able to tell what their ownership status was, other than by the fact that they are still flying. Presumably branding played a part in their retaining that identity when they were privatised: this would surely do so for SAA, which was established in 1934 and was once regarded as one of the best airlines in the world.  

Reportedly, the reason so many countries cling to their flag carriers is that they regard them as part of their national infrastructure and identity; they consider them a necessary point of pride, and use their control of the industry to their advantage. 

But let’s be honest. In 2024, airlines are just airborne bus companies. And bus companies are not regarded as infrastructure.

Pride in a flag is associated with success. No one, to my knowledge, burnt the South African flag when South Africa won the 2023 World Cup − not even Les Bleus, the British, or the All Blacks.

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*Sara Gon rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission