This was one of the core legends from "Ink in the Porridge: Urban Legends of the South African elections" (Penguin, 1994):
It was a masterpiece of non-committalism. On March 15 1994, the day the new South African flag was unveiled by the Transitional Executive Council, the SA Press Association described it like this: "The flag features a black triangle alongside the hoist bordered by gold and green. It also contains a white shape which separates a red and a blue shape."
Those involved in choosing a flag had been more ambitious. Wally Serote, former ANC Arts and Culture head, told the ANC mouthpiece Mayibuye that 7100 designs had been submitted, and criteria had to be worked out to reduce the number. These were "That the flag must be unique, simple and symbolise unity."
He continued: "When we looked at all the flags, we realised that there were colours among all the flags which were very common: green, gold, black, white, red and blue."
And three key patterns emerged from all the submissions: "There was the zig-zag pattern which gave the picture of a Ndebele design; there was also the dovetail as well as the triangular patterns."
The 7100 submissions were reduced to four designs.
ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa, who made the final selection of a design along with then-Constitutional Development Minister Roelf Meyer, stressed that the principle had been to choose a flag that would promote reconciliation. The flag, he said, was "essentially Africa", with "an artistic design which belongs to the continent".
Meyer declared that the many colours represented the different peoples of South Africa.
The man ultimately responsible for the flag, State Herald Fred Brownell, said that the flag combined history with the reality of the present. It formed a synopsis of history from the time of Jan van Riebeeck, he said, and it was "for both those looking backward and those looking forward". The pattern, he said, "can be seen as representing the convergence of diverse elements in South African society, which then take the road ahead together". He made a confession, however, that made the flag open season for legend-mongerers: the colours of the flag, he said, had no specific meaning - every South African should attach his own meaning to the colours.
Two days later, AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche did just that.
He announced that the new national flag was a confirmation that the Antichrist was about to rule South Africa; the flag, clearly, was the work of Satan:
"The triangle on the left is the pyramid of the Illuminati/New World Order one-world government. Colours of the ANC about to triumph over South Africa are clearly shown on the left.
"We are shocked but not surprised that they show the broken cross lying on its side to depict their triumph over Jesus Christ."
Few took the trouble to respond seriously: Terre'Blanche was drawing on urban legends so well-worn, they had become part of historical conspiracy theory still believed hundreds of years after their factual bases had disappeared.
But his claims came almost simultaneously with a series of newpaper advertisements placed by a fundamentalist religious grouping, United Christian Action, and a Conservative Party religious explanation for why it was boycotting the elections.
CP leader Ferdi Hartzenberg unwittingly added fuel to Terre'Blanche's fire by claiming that the CP would not take part in the elections because it was designed to install an atheist government.
"The new constitution does not acknowledge the Triune God and therefore places other gods on an equal footing to Him, the King of Kings," he said in confirming the CP decision. "Even the reference to Christian values has been removed from the constitution, which therefore makes South Africa constitutionally a secular state."
We all know how South Africa as a religious state treated Christian values. Nevertheless, the CP was not alone in its view. Advertisements placed by United Christian Action claimed that "the ANC supports the following Marxist beliefs: God does not exist; Religions were made by people; All religions should be united to form a One World Religion".
Their evidence? Well, Nelson Mandela "took part in the kushisha impepho ceremony in Durban on October 24, 1993 when 32 sangomas called down the blessing of the ancestral spirits on him. No Christian can accept the prayers of spirit mediums".
Furthermore, on November 18 1993 Mandela had said at the World Trade Centre: "Gone will be the days when one religion was elevated to a privilege over other religions."
Based on this expression of religious tolerance, United Christian Action deduced that, "should the ANC come to power after the April election, it will despise the Christian faith".
The advertisement containing such absurd leaps of logic were supported by several fundamnetalist institutions, suggesting that there was indeed a wide and receptive audience for the kind of religious conspiracies Terre'Blanche and Hartzenberg were unearthing.
The CP's chief whip in the Boksburg town council, Charles Hawkins, boycotted a subsequent "flag-swopping" ceremony in the council chambers, saying it was insulting and heart-breaking to see the old flag go.
"I, personally, have no respect for the new flag because it symbolises the fall of the White man in South Africa."
Franz Auerbach, a veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and educationist, took upon himself a small task of education. In a reasonably accurate descritpion of urban legends, he says that "uncontradicted nonsense tends to be taken by the gullible as the truth".
In a letter to The Star, which he kindly gave me permission to quote in full, he explained just how deluded were the propagators of the satanic interpretation of the new flag.
Triangles have been used in signs for thousands of years; they have nothing to do with "broken crosses". They figure in flag designs, in the Peace Sign and in the Star of David.
Long ago people believed such signs (and others like the original Indian swastika) had magical powers. Modern users of triangles in flags and other symbols have no such superstitious beliefs, nor do they use them to symbolise opposition to Christianity.
As for the Illuminati, they were a secret society in Bavaria, banned by their government in 1784. The conspiracy peddlers claim they didn't really disappear, but have continued working through the Freemasons (who were in fact rivals of the Illuminati in the 1780s). Freemasons have been accused of plotting to take over the world ever since about 1790; these fantasies have been raised repeatedly by groups opposing progressive changes in society.
First, to "prove" that the French Revolution was not successful because of popular support but because of plotting by secret conspirators. During the nineteenth century the same charge was made that liberal-national and democratic forces were not the expression of popular movements but were secretly controlled by people seeking to overthrow monarchs and the church.
In our century it again had to be shown that the Russian Revolution of 1917 wasn't the outcome of organised popular discontent but the rssult of plotting by sinister forces (Illuminati, Freemasons, Jews, capitalists manipulating Lenin, etc). Similar conspiracy allegations have been made about movements of international co-operation like the league of Nations and the United Nations: that sinister forces are trying the world according to their own agendas...
There's no credible evidence for these alleged plots, but they enjoy some credibility in certain right-wing circles worldwide.