NATIONAL FLAG OF SOUTH AFRICA:
OF THE FINAL DESIGN by Frederick G. Brownell, State Herald of the
Republic of South Africa.
present national flag of the Republic of South Africa was taken into
use at one minute past midnight on the morning of 27 April 1994. [Now South African Freedom
replaced the previous national flag which had flown over South
Africa from 31 May 1928 until
just before midnight on 26 April 1994. That previous national flag,
which had been born
controversy, was later perceived as a symbol of apartheid and thus
become politically unacceptable
to many South Africans. Particularly after the then State President,
announced in Parliament on 2 February 1990 that Nelson Mandela and
would be released from custody, many of us realised that the days of
the former national
with its strong colonial connotations, were numbered.
involvement during February and March 1990 in the creation of
Namibia`s national symbols,
set me thinking about a new national flag for South Africa and for
more than three
I wrestled with one design after another, but none of these ideas
seemed to offer the
I was looking for. While working on Namibia's symbols, I had
of all national flags. Although there had since been some changes,
were still relevant.
are over 160 flags in existence world-wide, and of these more than
50 % are composed
colours arranged in a horizontal configuration. Of these a quarter
also have either a panel,
triangle or a trapezium at the hoist. A further almost 20% of
national flags have their
in a vertical configuration, while some 10% are composed of crosses
and/or saltires. A
further 10% are single-colour flags bearing some device, usually in
the centre. Of the
10% less than half have diagonal stripes, while the remainder are
have borders, or plain flags with some device on a canton.
these salient facts had to be borne in mind, since it is essential
that any new national flags should be unique and unlikely to be confused with the flag of
far as the relative popularity of flag colours used in South Africa
over the past three and a half centuries is concerned, this
information had also been researched and tabulated. In descending
order of popularity, the principal colours found are: white (25),
green (22), red (20), blue (20), black (16), gold/yellow (15) and
orange (6). If the red and orange are combined and represented by
chilli red, they in fact take first place, but we will come to that
In contrast to the generally conservative European approach to
national flag designs and colours, African indigenous art and design
tends to be much bolder and more colourful. This is a factor which
also could not be overlooked.
easy answer presented itself and, as you can imagine, by mid-1993 I
was becoming somewhat despondent.
August 1993, like many of you, I attended the 15th International
Congress of Vexillology in Zurich. During the meeting of FIAV on the
evening of 25 August 1993, while Bruce Berry was doing the talking
on behalf of the Southern African Vexillological Association, my
mind again began to wander.
the Congress undoubtedly providing a conducive atmosphere, yet
came to me and I quickly sketched it on the back of my lecture list.
my previous bright ideas, which had all been consigned to the
wastepaper basket, the more I looked at this design, the more I felt that it
might offer a possible solution. What I had been looking for was something
the idea of convergence and unification.
that stage, negotiations aimed at preparing a new constitution for
South Africa were well under way at the World Trade Centre at
Kempton Park, not far from Johannesburg. In the process of drawing
up this new constitution, the multi-party Negotiating Council also
considered the question of South Africa's national symbols.
far as the public at large is concerned, the most emotive of these
symbols was undoubtedly the national flag. On 7 September 1993, only
days after my return from Zurich, the Negotiating Council appointed
a National Symbols Commission which was mandated to consult the
public and put forward recommendations as soon as possible. At our
first meeting, which was held on 15 September 1993, we established
three subcommittees. One, to consider proposals for a national flag, another to consider the national coat
of arms, and the third to look into the question of national anthems.
The only two members of the Commission with any real heraldic and
vexillological experience were the late Dr. Cor Pama and myself.
Both of us were thus nominated to serve on the national flag and
coat of arms sub-committees, while I was also appointed as convenor
of the latter subcommittee.
may be interested in the following photograph, taken recently, of
one of the batches of designs which were received. By the time
this Commission started drawing up its report on 14 October 1993,
some 7000 proposals for a new national flag had been received from the public. The time available
for evaluation and the preparation of recommendations was far too short.
Namibia we had set aside a full day to evaluate 835 designs, but the
national flag subcommittee and its assessors were expected to
evaluate, report on and come up with recommendations on 7000 designs
between 11 am and 4 pm, which included a break for lunch!
duties as convenor of the national coat of arms subcommittee
me from being directly involved in the activities of the national flag
I was unable to make any meaningful contribution at that stage.
of the politically charged atmosphere of the negotiating process,
which also permeated into the various technical committees, I
decided early in the proceedings not to submit any proposals of my
own to the Commission, lest there be allegations of a conflict of
a mental exercise, if nothing else, I continued working on the idea
which had come to me in Zurich, adjusting the design, and trying
various colour combinations. The following illustrations will give
you an idea of how my thoughts on the matter progressed.
first is of the original "Zurich design", in colour, but
with green at the top and blue below. But since I felt that
an adverse symbolism could be attached to the idea of red paths
converging, I then swopped the red and green. The next step
was to try yellow triangles at the hoist, because of the popularity
of this colour in a sporting context and in the flags of certain
political groupings, and then to superimpose black triangles
on the yellow. Red and orange were tried as alternative colours for
the top band.
the advice of my youngest daughter, I then deleted the continuation
of the central green stripe to the hoist. Her argument was that
certain people would "stand the flag on its head" and see
the "ban the bomb peace sign". This variation, with a
chilli red upper band, seemed to me to offer the best solution, from
both an historical and aesthetic point of view. I am not
particularly fond of black as a flag colour, but by means of a
triangular black overlay, I was also satisfied that if black had to
be added, it could be superimposed on the yellow without adversely
affecting the integrity of the design as a whole. Little did I
believe that any of these designs might ultimately be considered.
the limited time available, the National Symbols Commission put
forward six flag designs submitted by the public (one with minor
adjustments), for consideration by the Negotiating Council. These
designs were widely publicised in the media, but failed to elicit
any enthusiastic support, either from within the Negotiating Council
or from the public at large.
important viewpoint of the National Symbols Commission, which was
largely over-looked, was that the activities of the Commission be
considered as the beginning of a process, not necessarily as the end.
a result of the lukewarm public response to the Commission's six
proposals, a number of graphic design studios were requested by the Negotiating
Council to put forward further proposals. There is a vast difference
between decorating a shopping center and designing a national flag,
with the result that most of their proposals
were impractical. The following photograph will give you an idea of
of their designs. These proposals were also not met with any
enthusiasm and the matter was left in abeyance while other aspects
of the Constitution which would guide South Africa for a
transitional period of some five years, were resolved. As far as the
national flag is concerned, section 2(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993 (Act No. 200
of 1993), merely provided that "The national flag of the
Republic shall be the flag the design of which is determined by the
President by proclamation in the Gazette".
question of a new national flag for South Africa was thus, as yet,
unresolved when Parliament went into recess at the end of 1993.
then, until the first fully representative elections commenced on 27
April 1994 (the date on which the new constitution came into force),
South Africa was, in effect, governed by the State President, on the
advice of a multi-party Transitional Executive Council (TEC).
Among the constitutional matters which had still to be settled, was
that of the national flag. The TEC only seems to have woken up to
the fact in mid February 1994, when Roelf Meyer and Cyril Ramaphosa,
who were the chief negotiators of the Government and the African
National Congress (ANC) respectively, were given the task of
resolving the problem. They entrusted the solution of the flag
question to a technical working committee of Government
and ANC nominees, of which I was the convenor. We were
instructed to come
up with an acceptable solution by the end of the week!
our first meeting in Cape Town on 28 February 1994, members of the
technical working comimttee were unanimous in the view that the idea
of interlinking or convergence should, in the interests of national
unity, be a central theme to any draft design put forward to the
TEC's subcommittee on national symbols.
last, the basic concept which had come to me in Switzerland, and
which had later been refined, seemed to offer a possible solution.
It in fact formed the basis of two of the four designs put forward
by the technical working committee after its second meeting on 2
convenor of the technical working committee, it fell on my shoulders
to try to interpret the committee's views and convert them into
first of these designs, which was in green and gold (South Africa's
traditional sporting colours and also two of the most popular
colours in the flags
of the South African "liberation movements"), had a
vertical dovetailed partition line. This design was suggested by Dr.
J.C. Pauw, one of the members of the technical working committee.
second, to which red and blue were added, had a zig-zag
configuration and was based in part on an idea which the ANC members
third, which was my personal preference, was one of the refinements
of my "Zurich design". It included white as a further
colour. The choice of chilli red (red/orange), for the upper band
circumvented certain political objections to the use of orange. This
design has a clear link with the past, but at the same time has much
which is new.
the possible incorporation of white had been discussed in the
technical working committee, I had gained the impression that if
white was to be included, there would also have to be black, because
of a perception held by many of my compatriots that these two
colours are representative of white and black South Africans
only place in which black could, to my mind, be successfully added
to the third design, was in the form of a triangle superimposed on
the gold in the hoist. I had already investigated this possibility,
and found that it would work. My artists were thus instructed to
prepare this variation as well. It is this version of the "Zurich
design", which was ultimately adopted by the TEC as South
Africa's new national flag on 15 March 1994.
the same day the South Africa Bureau of Standards was requested to
prepare the appropriate specification with all speed. This
specification was available three days later.
some inexplicable reason the TEC, on the other hand, took its time
in submitting its recommendation to the State President, with the
result that a proclamation adopting the new national flag was only
published in the Government Gazette on 20 April 1994.
weeks after the adoption of the new national flag, I seemed to do
nothing but answer questions. It felt as if the whole world wanted
details about the design, colour codes and symbolism. Considering
the diversity of the South African
the question of symbolism, especially with regard to the colours,
a potential minefield.
only aspect of the flag to which I have been prepared to attach any
measure of symbolic meaning, has been the central design, which
begins as a V at the hoist, comes together in the centre of the flag
and extends as a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly.
This can be seen as representing the convergence of diverse elements
in South African society which then take the road ahead in unison.
idea of convergence and unification links up with the motto of the
national coat of arms, Ex Unitate Vires, which means
"Unity is Strength".
far as the choice of colours is concerned, the chilli red, white and
blue are derived from the earlier stages of our flag history, while
green, black and gold, first came into use in South African national
flags during the 19th century. Since chilli falls between red and
orange it can, together with white and blue, be seen as representing
both the Dutch and British colonial flag traditions in South
Green was taken into use for the first time in the Transvaal Vierkleur
the national flag of the Boer Republic of The Land of Goshen had a
and one of Stellaland's flags had a gold star. These two flags date
from the 1880's. The widespread association of, for example, black,
green and gold with the flags of "liberation movements",
is thus predated by many years by their use in other South African
flags. One should bear in mind that individual colours. or
combinations of colours, can have widely differing meanings to
various people. For this reason, no universal symbolism can be
attached to any of these colours, and they are open to free
interpretation. Those who wish to see the colours of their political
party, or colours which they might in some other way hold dear in
the national flag, are thus welcome to do so.
it is the very avoidance of any symbolic meaning for any of the
colours which, I believe, has contributed to the widespread
acceptance of the new national flag of South Africa across the
political and cultural spectrum.
is often accompanied by a measure of resistance and there are those
who still cling to the previous national flag, although their
numbers seem to be dwindling. But all in all, the new national flag
seems to have found its way into
hearts and minds of the population at large, and to have become the
which South Africa needs.
it is still an "interim" national flag, but the level of
support is such that I believe it has a very strong chance of being
those present who, two years ago in Zurich unwittingly provided
inspiration and moral support for the design of the new South
African national flag, may sincere thanks. You were an integral part
of what has been referred to as one of the success stories of the
"New South Africa".