South African apartheid-era flag still flying in NSW town of Cooma, sparking controversy – ABC News

South African apartheid-era flag still flying in NSW town of Cooma, sparking controversy
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A council in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains is standing firm on its decision to fly the apartheid-era South African flag despite pleas from the country's High Commission, advocates and some residents.
The flag flies in Cooma among nearly 30 others in the Historic Avenue of Flags, which represent the nationalities of all the workers who helped build the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the 1950s.
The Snowy Monaro Regional Council's decision to continue flying the flag, which is highly visible in a busy thoroughfare between Canberra and the Snowy Mountains, has long sparked controversy.
The South African High Commission has been actively advocating for the flag to be changed for about a decade.
Interview requests were denied but a spokesman told the ABC that the old flag is a symbol of division and that the commission continues to advocate for it to be replaced with the new flag.
"In the past [we] have engaged the relevant role players to convey our very strong view that it is inappropriate to continue to fly the old South African Flag," the spokesman said.
"We will continue to convey our views to the relevant role players."
A number of the flags on the Avenue of Flags are no longer current, including flags from other now-non-existent nations like Czechoslovakia.
Beginning in 1948, the apartheid era was defined by racist segregation policies that divided the white minority and black majority in South Africa.
When the policy ended in 1994 the country adopted a new flag to reflect unity among its people.
Perth-based South African writer and advocate Sisonke Msimang was appalled by the situation.
"It makes no sense in 2022 for that flag [to be flown]," she said.
"[It] represented the suffering of millions of people, which has been recognised as a global crime against humanity by the United Nations."
The council has long defended its decision to fly old flags, stating they reflect a "time in history".
"From my point of view, we can learn from history — we can't change history," newly elected Mayor Narelle Davis said.
"The flags are a historical reminder of the time and the countries that all these wonderful people came from post World War II."
Ms Msimang said the history argument was not strong enough to justify keeping the old flag.
"I'm not convinced in any way that this is about looking back historically and saying that people didn't know better then," she said.
"I think often that's an easy excuse and I don't think that it washes in this instance."
Cooma resident Jo Helmers thought the flag was an important representation of the thousands of migrants who moved to the region for the scheme.
"If you take away the political part of it and look at the history side of it, I feel it still should be displayed," she said.
Jennifer Coles, also from Cooma, believed the local council should update the flag.
"They should replace it," she said.
"It still means the same thing in terms of representing the people who are from South Africa who worked here, which is what those flags are about."
Ms Msimang said the community should have a conversation about the matter.
"If people at a very local level understand how offensive and insulting it is for this flag to be flying, then they would be best served to determine whether they wanted to put it in a museum or to pull it down completely," she said.
Ms Davis said if people felt strongly about the issue they should write to the council.
"Then we'll have something to work on to actually address the issue," she said.
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