Despite the outrage, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa has defended his department’s plans to spend R22 million on its national monumental flag project.
Delivering his budget during Parliament’s mini plenary vote on Thursday, Mthethwa responded to Freedom Front Plus (FF+) MP Heloïse Denner, who accused the department of misplacing its priorities.
“Denner wants to trivialise the flag. No, it’s the mandate of the department to create among other things monuments and this flag is a monument for democracy in this country and we make no bones about that,” he said.
The minister further made a case for his argument citing AfriForum’s legal battle relating to the apartheid-era flag.
“And it’s disingenuous to say it’s not important, if it’s not important, your sister organisation AfriForum wouldn’t be in court today fighting for the old flag. So I think we must clarify this thing that we have an obligation to transform the heritage landscape and will do just that,” he continued.
AfriForum is seeking to set aside the Equality Court’s 2019 ruling that declared the “gratuitous displays” of the flag, in public and private spaces, hate speech.
“The national flag is one of our primary symbols and we are saying it is important that even at that level we ensure that we hoist high the flag as part of this transformation of the heritage landscape,” Mthethwa added.
Mthethwa also said he was aware of challenges faced by artists and athletes.
According to the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, the installation of the flag will cost R17 million, while geotechnical studies will set it back another R5 million.
The 100-metre flag is set to be erected in Freedom Park heritage site in Pretoria
The flag monument has come under fire from the public, with One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane questioning the price tag.
“R22 million for a flag? Then they say it’s a monument to democracy. It’s a monument to the levels of corruption in our nation,” Maimaner said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) condemned the department, saying the project basically amounted to “wasteful expenditure”.
In a statement, the EFF said the price tag exposed how the department has no idea how to allocate its budget.
“This is a useless, fruitless and misguided use of the taxpayers money, that must be rejected by all logical and rational people.
“The explanation for this patently stupid waste of money, is that it will be a symbol of unity and national pride. The department purports that this mounting of a flag, will inspire social cohesion,” the party said.
The Red Berets added that the funds should rather be used for development of the arts.
“We call on Mthethwa to put the money he planned to use on his shameful flag-project to good use, and not insult our collective intelligence. The money can be used to develop local sports, invest in women’s football or create long-lasting infrastructure for the creative industry, not this senseless attempt at social cohesion.”
South Africa’s flag was designed by Frederick Brownell in 1993.