South Africa’s Equality Court severely restricted the display of the country’s old apartheid-era flag after ruling Wednesday that it constitutes hate speech and racial discrimination.
Judge Phineas Mojapelo said the ruling doesn’t mean an outright ban of the flag, which can continue to be used for artistic, academic, journalistic or other purposes deemed in the public interest.
But the judge criticized those who continued deliberately to wave the apartheid-era flag, saying such people are perpetuating oppression.
“Those who display the old flag choose deliberately to not only display the old flag, but also consciously and deliberately choose to not display the new, multiracial flag,” said Mojapelo. “They choose oppression over liberation.”
“Those who display the old flag choose deliberately to not only display the old flag, but also consciously and deliberately choose to not display the new, multiracial flag. They choose oppression over liberation.”
He added that individuals displaying the flag shouldn’t face arrest, but instead be subjected to fines or terms of community service.
The orange, white and blue flag of South Africa’s previous white-minority regime, which enforced the system of racial discrimination known as apartheid, was replaced by a new flag when the country abandoned the system and achieved majority-rule democracy in 1994.
Some conservative and right-wing groups have retained the apartheid-era flag, especially at certain political gatherings or rugby matches.
The court’s ruling comes after the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the custodian of the former president's archives and legacy, asked the court to rule whether the old flag constitutes discrimination based on race.
South Africa’s human rights commission joined the application, claiming that those using the old flag felt nostalgia for the apartheid days.
The efforts to ban the flag were opposed by Afriforum, a group representing South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority. The group argued that the ban would infringe freedom of speech and expression.
Dakota Legoete, the spokesman for South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, hailed the ruling as a “national victory,” comparing it to the banning of the Nazi swastika in Germany.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation also welcomed the ruling.
“The judge was clear that we have to work together with others, including Afriforum, to do what the constitution says we must do,” Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang said. “We must be a nation that celebrates our diversity instead of fighting over our differences."
Afriforum’s Ernst Roets, meanwhile, insisted that displaying the flag doesn't amount to hate speech.
“As Afriforum we do not display the flag and we actively discourage people from displaying the flag,” he said. “We cherish freedom of expression and for us displaying the flag is not sufficient ground for hate speech. For it to be hate speech, it must be coupled with a call to action to inflict harm.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.