Caster Semenya found herself on the wrong side of some of her supporters on Sunday after posting several pictures of new Nike sneakers on Twitter.
One of the pairs raised eyebrows with colours resembling those of the old South African flag.
First to question the colours was Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who asked Nike if they indeed resembled those of the old SA flag.
In response to Mbalula, Semenya basically told the minister to get his house in order first after bringing to his attention the colours of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department vehicles that seem to also resemble those of the old SA flag.
She said: “With no disrespect, I suppose this makes it one as the minister of transport. Some comments are so disappointing coming from our leaders thoughts. After all, those are just colours.”
Her response only angered some of her followers, who called out her “ignorance”.
OnelaMafungwa told Semenya: “Caster at it again with her ignorance. Reminds me when the good sis was annoyed and irritated by the #FeesMustFall protests. Sometimes you just shock me. These will never be just colours,” while justCallMeWill said: “We will always support you Caster. Even @Woolworths had to take their bag down. Nike can’t get a pass.”
AFriForum’s Ernst Roets, who has had his share of court troubles after tweeting a picture of the apartheid flag just hours after the Equality Court had declared the gratuitous display of the flag hate speech, also commented on the Semenya outrage and asked whether she had just committed hate speech.
Some of her followers, however, defended her and said there was nothing wrong with the colours on the sneakers.
Mpho Ramphele wrote: “Thank you. These are just colours mixed on one item. Must these colours be banned ge? There we go with JMPD cars,” while MarulaForAll said: “So this combination of colours isn’t allowed anymore? It’s one thing if it’s a specific drawing depicting prejudice, but colours now fam. Hayi angati. [I don’t know]”
Her critics argued that those who saw nothing with the colours probably joined in the outrage against Woolworths two months ago after a gym bag with colours resembling those of the old SA flag was spotted in one of their stores.
At the time, the brand apologised and explained that the bag was designed in line with their summer colour scheme: Azure Blue, Marshmallow, Orange, Baby Blue and Navy.
Nike is yet to respond to the outrage on social media.
Judge President Phineas Mojapelo argued that displaying the flag “does much more than merely cause emotional pain and stress to black people”, and that “it makes no difference” to his finding that “an isolated person somewhere” would not fully understand the meaning of the flag, which was dehumanising to black people. Those who displayed the flag were consciously choosing “oppression over liberation symbols, with the intent to incite and awaken white supremacist” .
“The old apartheid flag, as it is sometimes called, was a vivid symbol of white supremacy and black disenfranchisement and suppression. It combined four flags: the British Union Jack, and [those of] the old Boer Republics. It gave expression to European heritage and heraldry and excluded black people entirely,” he said, quoting one argument from the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) in the case, which he agreed with.
(Additional reporting, Charles Cilliers)