..of flags and feelings

SA flag

Methinks that as often as feelings expressed bring about better understanding and peace of mind, even solidarity or delight, they are also able to stir up sensations better left latent or arouse dogs better left sleeping.

Shared words of affirmation have the power of quelling emotions of unrest and doubt; even of soothing troubled hearts. On the other hand words of reversed affirmation, so to speak, can be retrogressive and disheartening.

In much the same way flags, while they are inherently lifeless objects, have the potential of sending massive shivers down otherwise rigid and indifferent spines. Or of ruffling otherwise smooth feathers; rubbing them up the wrong way. Few tokens or emblems are as compelling as flags. They fly and ripple, they beat and gallop, they drape and honour or they hang limp and lifeless – sometimes half-mast…

In my lifetime two flags of national significance have impacted on two separate eras of the country I call home. The first was as beautiful to me as any nationally significant flag is to a patriot. It awakened in me the sense of belonging – especially if I saw it gracing the skies above a border post or an embassy in a faraway land. However as a symbol it had its time. There was simply no way that it could be hoisted over the New South Africa.

Maybe suitably, the ‘old’ flag was bade farewell in the hearty and triumphant atmosphere of South Africa’s re-entering of the international rugby arena at Ellispark in 1992 when our national team clashed with the All Blacks. Never before or after was that flag displayed so abundantly and spontaneously as at that momentous occasion – by a capacity crowd.


Three years later, in the very same stadium against the very same opponents, the capacity crowd of rainbow spectators was united under a brand new flag that was swung and paraded with swelling pride and accompanied by the rousing and unmistakable sounds of ‘Shosholoza’. The new era had dawned.

With its confluence-like symbolism and its bold colours this flag had taken shape before our eyes. It had been conceptualised and designed to serve a new purpose and we, the ordinary citizens, had shared in the process. It had to be a more inclusive, more representative national symbol. And it had not only been inevitable, but also essential: it was herald to a new dispensation.

Emotions had been mixed and even confused. There had been apprehension and anticipation; a sense of loss, but also undeniably the sensation of awakening pride and solidarity.

Almost twenty years down the line that flag is here to stay. To be embraced. To be taken ownership of by all and sundry across colour and creed who claim to be South African.

Who can deny swallowing with some difficulty when watching it sliding up a flagpole to the sound of the (new) national anthem with its colourful blend of phrases from a number of indigenous languages –  incorporating crucial parts of the ‘old’ anthem?

God bless South Africa!


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