Three cheers for Nathi Mthethwa. The Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture did more for social cohesion and nation-building this week than any of his colleagues have done in ages. How? By uniting South Africans in disbelieving rage with his announcement that R22 million would be spent on a 100-metre SA flag pole – oh, and it would glow in the dark because, Mthethwa told eNCA, “the education has to be continuous, both at day and at night”. Don’t worry, the minister didn’t rush into this important endeavour; R1.7 million was spent on “geotechnical studies” first.
And, perhaps most importantly, the gigantic flag would bring tremendous economic benefits, he explained – to the steel industry.
There’s just one problem with the plan: South Africans hate it. Artists and other creatives were financially cut off at the knees by the Covid-19 pandemic and Mthethwa’s department has been condemned for not offering sustainable help. 😡
It’s no wonder, then, that creatives led the charge against Mthethwa on Twitter after news of the flag emerged. TV presenter Bonang Matheba’s criticism was the shortest and sharpest of all. She tweeted: “You’re useless and we all hate you @NathiMthethwa.” Yeowch.
Mthethwa took notice. This morning his department issued a statement in which it said the “process related to the monumental flag” would be reviewed “in its totality”. It also emerged that his colleagues had backed Mthethwa’s plan. Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele told News24 that Cabinet approved the flagpole in February as a project that would “bring South Africans together.
“It was not meant to tear us apart,” the minister told News24.
It’s woefully unusual for the government to listen when ordinary people, er, flag their concerns about how public money is spent, so we’re pleased that the backlash opened their ears for a change.