Should The Old SA Flag Be Banned?

Should the OBB flag really be banned? Or do we just not understand our own history as well as we think we do?
Jason Snyman
The US has their Confederate flag. Germany has their Nazi swastika flag.  The rising sun of the Imperial Japanese army. In South Africa, of course, we’ve got the OBB. Oranje, Blanje, Blou. Every nation has that one flag they wish they could erase from the annals of history. But should a flag be forgotten? Should flags be trampled and banned and expunged, when so much valuable history remains tied to them? In these cases it may not be history worth cherishing or celebrating. But, it’s certainly worth remembering. It reminds us, again and again, how to avoid making those same mistakes. During the recent ‘Black Monday’ march, organised to raise awareness for the rise in farm murders, it was reported that a number of people were seen waving the old South African flag around. Fellow activists of all races, ages and genders responded with outrage. Many have even called for the flag to be outright banned. The OBB is widely considered to be a painful symbol of apartheid. The right-wing Afrikaner community, however, regards it as a symbol of their heritage. Flags may unify a country, evoking a sense of pride and hope, and represent us to the rest of the world. They’re not just a symbol. They mean something. In that sense, we should all be wary when choosing which flag we fly. This flag represents you, your ideals, your beliefs and your mind-set. Let’s take a look at a history of South African national flags.
Read about Black Monday here

The South African Ensign Flag (1910 – 1928)

There were two versions of this national flag, one red and one blue. While both were de facto national flags during the same period, the red version, known as the Red Duster, was the most commonly used. The First World War was fought under this flag, the red version of which seeing a slight modification in 1912. The ensign flag features a British Union Jack in the top left corner and the South African National Coat of Arms in the bottom right. Boer Commandos who joined the Union Defence Force in 1910 flew and fought beneath this flag. Oh, the irony. As discussed later in this article, the National Party who would come into ruling in 1948 took a massive dislike to the OBB flag. This aversion was nothing compared to the absolute hatred they had for the Red Duster, with its huge Union Jack, and the flag was literally wiped out from the South African collective consciousness. Very few examples of it survive today, and most South Africans still don’t know that it ever existed.  

Oranje Blanje Blou (1928 – 1994)

The ensign flags were usually adopted for British colonies, as in the case of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many more. The South African government was an independent parliament and made its own laws. Therefore, it was felt that the ensign flags did not reflect the history of the Boer Republics or Dutch colony origins making up the other half of the Union. And so, the Union Parliament unveiled the OBB as the new national flag in 1928. The flag represented the old British colonies of Natal and the Cape, as well as the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The most honoured position of any inserted national flag upon another flag would be that placed closest to the flag pole. Therefore, to appease British critics who objected to such a dramatic flag change, the Union Jack took a superior position to the two Boer Republic flags. The flag has since been met with much disdain and even banned in certain places. It is still seen as an offensive Apartheid flag, a symbol of that regime. Just as in the case of the Nazi swastika flag, some movements have also erroneously adopted the OBB as a symbol of white supremacy. I say erroneously, because in truth, the OBB symbolises that dreaded Union of Afrikaners and the British. The flag was born from the ideals of Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. The model of Union. It does not represent the racist ideals of Malan or Verwoerd. So, in essence, there is nothing more idiotic than a white supremacist waving the OBB around with the intention of upsetting black people. They’re waving a flag around which they do not fully understand.
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‘Apartheid’ Flag

Despite being used throughout Apartheid, the National Party twice tried to have the flag changed. When South Africa became a republic under Hendrik Verwoerd and withdrew from the Commonwealth, and later under Prime Minister John Vorster. The National Party couldn’t bear to have the British Union Flag upon their own, flying around in their faces all day and reminding them of British obliteration of Boer families during the Boer war. Ah, yes... Irony is nothing but honesty with the volume turned all the way up. In both cases, the adoption of a new flag was rejected by the broader public and later ignored by parliament. The OBB remained, all the way up to 1994. That the flag flew all the way through Apartheid is unfortunate. It detracts from all the rich history, including our heroic efforts during the Second World War and the South African ‘Union’. It was never intended to be the flag of a Republic. Whether intentional or not, though, it has evolved to epitomize cruelty and sadism, and so, should probably be hung up in museums of history – where it rightly belongs – and not upon a public flagpole.  

The ‘Rainbow Nation’ National Flag (1994 – Present)

The good old AmaFlappaFlappa, one of the most striking and recognisable flags in the world. In the past, various symbolisms have been attributed to the colours of our flag. From the colour of our skins, the violence we have endured, the natural beauty of our land and even our mineral wealth, people have formed their own interpretations. The colours of the flag, though, have never been given official symbolic meaning. The flag of the rainbow nation, then, is the flag of the people. A flag of you or I, free to personalize as we deem fit. The flag was designed by former South African State Herald, Frederick Brownell, and first used on the 27th of April 1994. The design and colours, however, draw from elements of our country’s own flag history. Our eye is immediately caught by the dominant ‘Y’ shape, flowing from two corners into a single horizontal band. The convergence of diverse elements within our society. A road ahead in unity. Unity is Strength – that’s the motto of our previous Coat of Arms. The flag is ultimately an amalgamation of Colonial Dutch, British Union, Boer Republic and African National Congress flags. Brownell incorporated the shapes and colours into one, creating one of the most cross-cultural flags ever composited. Just as it is with the OBB, racists who fly the flag so proudly do not realise what it represents. It symbolizes all of us, together, as one nation. The new flag celebrates all history, whether the critics would like to admit it or not.