South Africa’s National Symbols
The national flag was designed by a former South African State Herald, Mr Fred Brownell, and was first used on 27 April 1994. The design and colours are a synopsis of principal elements of the country’s flag history. Individual colours, or colour combinations represent different meanings for different people and therefore no universal symbolism should be attached to any of the colours.
The central design of the flag, beginning at the flagpost in a ‘V’ form and flowing into a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly, can be interpreted as the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity. The theme of convergence and unity ties in with the motto Unity is Strength of the previous South African Coat of Arms.
Flying the flag
Specific instructions with regard to the use of the national flag can be found in the Government Gazette 22356, Notice 510 of 8 June 2001 [PDF].
When the flag is displayed vertically against a wall, the red band should be to the left of the viewer with the hoist or the cord seam at the top. When it is displayed horizontally, the hoist should be to the left of the viewer and the red band at the top. When the flag is displayed next to or behind the speaker at a meeting, it must be placed to the speaker’s right. When it is placed elsewhere in the meeting place, it should be to the right of the audience.
National Coat of Arms
A national Coat of Arms, or state emblem, is the highest visual symbol of the State.
The Coat of Arms is also a central part of the Great Seal, traditionally considered to be the highest emblem of the State. Absolute authority is given to every document with an impression of the Great Seal on it, as this means that it has been approved by the President of South Africa.
South Africa’s Coat of Arms was launched on Freedom Day, 27 April 2000. The change reflected government’s aim to highlight the democratic change in South Africa and a new sense of patriotism.
The design of the Coat of Arms
The Coat of Arms is a series of elements organised in distinct symmetric egg-like or oval shapes placed on top of one another.
The lower oval shape represents the elements of foundation
The first element is the motto, in a green semicircle. Completing the semicircle are two symmetrically placed pairs of elephant tusks pointing upwards. Within the oval shape formed by the tusks are two symmetrical ears of wheat, that in turn frame a centrally placed gold shield.
The shape of the shield makes reference to the drum, and contains two human figures from Khoisan rock art. The figures are depicted facing one another in greeting and in unity.
Above the shield are a spear and a knobkierie, crossed in a single unit. These elements are arranged harmoniously to give focus to the shield and complete the lower oval shape of foundation.
The oval shape of ascendance
Immediately above the oval shape of foundation, is the visual centre of the Coat of Arms, a protea. The petals of the protea are rendered in a triangular pattern reminiscent of the crafts of Africa.
The secretary bird is placed above the protea and the flower forms the chest of the bird. The secretary bird stands with its wings uplifted in a regal and uprising gesture. The distinctive head feathers of the secretary bird crown a strong and vigilant head.
The rising sun above the horizon is placed between the wings of the secretary bird and completes the oval shape of ascendance.
The combination of the upper and lower oval shapes intersect to form an unbroken infinite course, and the great harmony between the basic elements result in a dynamic, elegant and thoroughly distinctive design. Yet it clearly retains the stability, gravity and immediacy that a Coat of Arms demands.
The symbols of the Coat of Arms
The oval shape of foundation
The motto is: !ke e: /xarra //ke, written in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, literally meaning diverse people unite. It addresses each individual effort to harness the unity between thought and action. On a collective scale it calls for the nation to unite in a common sense of belonging and national pride – unity in diversity.
Pronunciation of !ke e: /xarra //ke:
The ears of wheat
An emblem of fertility, it also symbolises the idea of germination, growth and the feasible development of any potential. It relates to the nourishment of the people and signifies the agricultural aspects of the Earth.
Elephants symbolise wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.
It has a dual function as a vehicle for the display of identity and of spiritual defence. It contains the primary symbol of our nation.
The human figures
The figures are derived from images on the Linton stone, a world-famous example of South African rock art, now housed and displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. The Khoisan, the oldest known inhabitants of our land and most probably of the Earth, testify to our common humanity and heritage as South Africans and as humanity in general. The figures are depicted in an attitude of greeting, symbolising unity. This also represents the beginning of the individual’s transformation into the greater sense of belonging to the nation and by extension, collective humanity.
The spear and knobkierie
Dual symbols of defence and authority, they in turn represent the powerful legs of the secretary bird. The spear and knobkierie are lying down, symbolising peace.
The oval shape of ascendance
The protea is an emblem of the beauty of our land and the flowering of our potential as a nation in pursuit of the African Renaissance. The protea symbolises the holistic integration of forces that grow from the Earth and are nurtured from above. The most popular colours of Africa have been assigned to the protea – green, gold, red and black.
The secretary bird
The secretary bird is characterised in flight, the natural consequence of growth and speed. It is the equivalent of the lion on Earth. A powerful bird whose legs – depicted as the spear and knobkierie – serve it well in its hunt for snakes, symbolising protection of the nation against its enemies. It is a messenger of the heavens and conducts its grace upon the Earth. In this sense it is a symbol of divine majesty. Its uplifted wings are an emblem of the ascendance of our nation, while simultaneously offering us its protection. It is depicted in gold, which clearly symbolises its association with the sun and the highest power.
The rising sun
An emblem of brightness, splendour and the supreme principle of the nature of energy, it symbolises the promise of rebirth, the active faculties of reflection, knowledge, good judgement and willpower. It is the symbol of the source of life, of light and the ultimate wholeness of humanity.
The completed structure of the Coat of Arms combines the lower and higher oval shape in a symbol of infinity. The path that connects the lower edge of the scroll, through the lines of the tusks, with the horizon above and the sun rising at the top, forms the shape of the cosmic egg from which the secretary bird rises. In the symbolic sense, this is the implied rebirth of the spirit of our great and heroic nation.
The Springbok – National animal
The Springbok (Afrikaans: spring = jump; bok = antelope, deer, or goat) (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a small brown and white gazelle that stands about 75 cm high. The males can weigh up to 50 kg and the females up to 37 kg. The Latin name marsupialis derives from a pocket-like skin flap which extends along the middle of the back on to the tail. The springbok can lift this flap, which makes the white hairs underneath stand up in a conspicuous ‘fan’.
Typical of this species is the pronk (jumping display), which led to its common name. Both sexes have horns but those of the ram are thicker and rougher. This species has adapted to the dry, barren areas and open grass plains and is thus found especially in the Free State, North West province and in the Karoo up to the west coast of South Africa.
They are herd animals and move in small herds during winter, but often crowd together in bigger herds in summer. They eat both grass and leaves and can go without drinking-water, because they get enough moisture from the succulent leaves. Where drinking-water is available they will use it.
The springbok was a national symbol of South Africa under white minority rule (including a significant period prior to the establishment of Apartheid). It was adopted as a nickname or mascot by a number of South African sports teams, most famously by the national rugby team. It appeared on the emblems of the South African Air Force, the logo of South African Airways (for which it remains their radio callsign) and the Coat of Arms of South Africa. It also featured as the logo of ‘South Africa’s Own Car’, the Ranger, in the early 1970s.
The Springbok remains the national animal of South Africa.
After the demise of apartheid, the ANC government decreed that South African sporting teams were to be known as the Proteas, however, the rugby team still maintain the name Springboks after the intervention of then-president Nelson Mandela, who did so as a gesture of goodwill to the mainly white (and largely Afrikaner) rugby supporters.
The Blue Crane – National bird
The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradisea), also known as the Stanley Crane and the Paradise Crane, is a tall, ground-dwelling bird of the crane family which stands a little over a metre high and is pale blue-gray in colour with a white crown, a pink bill, and long, dark gray wingtip feathers which trail to the ground.
It eats seeds, insects and reptiles. Blue cranes lay their eggs in the bare veld, often close to water. They are quite common in the Karoo, but are also seen in the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal and the highveld, usually in pairs or small family parties. It likes wet parts and lays its eggs on the ground. It grazes in the field and eats seeds, insects and small reptiles.
They are altitudinal migrants, generally nesting in the upper grasslands and moving down to lower altitudes for winter. Many occupy agricultural areas. The blue crane has a distinctive rattling croak, fairly high-pitched at call, which can be heard from far away. It is, however, usually quiet.
Of the 15 species of crane, the Blue Crane has the most restricted distribution of all. While it remains common in parts of its historic range, and between 10,000 and 20,000 birds remain, it began a sudden population decline from around 1980 and is now classified as critically endangered.
In the last two decades, the Blue Crane has largely disappeared from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, and Swaziland. The population in the northern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West Province has declined by up to 90%. The majority of the remaining population is in eastern and southern South Africa, with a small and separate population in the Etosha Pan of northern Namibia. Occasionally, isolated breeding pairs are found in five neighboring countries.
The primary causes of the sudden decline of the Blue Crane are human population growth, the conversion of grasslands into commercial tree plantations, and poisoning: deliberate (to protect crops) or accidental (baits intended for other species, and as a side-effect of crop dusting.
The South African government has stepped up legal protection for the Blue Crane. Other conservation measures are focusing on research, habitat management, education, and recruiting the help of private landowners.
The Blue Crane is a bird very special to the amaXhosa, who call it indwe. When a man distinguished himself by deeds of valour, or any form of meritorious conduct, he was often decorated by a chief by being presented with the feathers of this bird. After a battle, the chief would organise a ceremony called ukundzabela – a ceremony for the heroes, at which feathers would be presented. Men so honoured – they wore the feathers sticking out of their hair – were known as men of ugaba (trouble) – the implication being that if trouble arose, these men would reinstate peace and order.
The King Protea, (Protea cynaroides), is a flowering plant. Its flower head (what the layman will call the ‘flower’) is the largest in the genus Protea: the species is also known as Giant Protea, Honeypot or King Sugar Bush. It is widely distributed in the south-western and southern parts of South Africa of the fynbos region.
The artichoke-like appearance of the flower-heads of the king protea lead to the specific name ‘cynaroides’, which means ‘like cynara’ (the artichoke). The name does not do justice to the beautiful flower-heads of this protea, which is the largest in the genus. A number of varieties in colour and leaf shapes are found, but the most beautiful is the pink coloured flower.
Real Yellowwood – National tree
The yellowwood family is primeval and has been present in South Africa for more than 100 million years. The species is widespread and is found from Table Mountain, along the southern and eastern Cape coast, in the ravines of the Drakensberg up to the Soutpansberg and the Blouberg in Limpopo.
In forests, they can grow up to 40 metres in height with the base of the trunk sometimes up to 3 metres in diameter. In contrast, trees that grow in unsheltered places like mountain-slopes, are often short, bushy and gnarled. The bark of the real yellowwood is khaki-coloured to grey when it is old, deeply split and peels off in strips. The crown is relatively small in relation to its height and is often covered with grey lichen. Male and female cones resemble pine cones and are white, light green or pink. The female cone has a fleshy podocarpium on which the seed, which takes on the shape and colour of a cherry, develops. The leaves are strap-shaped, 25–40 mm long on mature trees, larger, to 100 mm long, on vigorous young trees, and 6–12 mm broad, with a bluntly pointed tip.
The National Anthem
A proclamation issued by the then State President, Nelson Mandela, on 20 April 1994 in terms of the provisions of Section 248 (1) together with Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993 (Act 200 of 1993), stated that the Republic of South Africa would have two national anthems. They were Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and The Call of South Africa (Die Stem van Suid-Afrika). In terms of Section 4 of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 (Act 108 of 1996), and following a proclamation in the Government Gazette No. 18341 (dated 10 October 1997), a shortened, combined version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and The Call of South Africa is now the national anthem of South Africa.
It is the only neo-modal national anthem in the world, by virtue of being the only one that starts in one key and finishes in another. The lyrics employ the five most populous of South Africa’s eleven official languages – isiXhosa (first stanza, first two lines), isiZulu (first stanza, last two lines), seSotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza) and English (final stanza).
Nkosi Sekelel’ iAfrika was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist school teacher. It was originally sung as a church hymn but later became an act of political defiance against the apartheid Government. Die Stem van Suid-Afrika/The Call of South Africa was written by C.J. Langenhoven in 1918. “Die Stem” was the co-national anthem with God Save the King/Queen from 1936 to 1957, when it became the sole national anthem until 1994. The South African Government under Nelson Mandela adopted both songs as national anthems from 1994 until they were merged in 1997 to form the current anthem.
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
(Xhosa and Zulu)
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.
Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.
English translation of Xhosa and Zulu version
Lord bless Africa
May her glory be lifted high
Hear our petitions
Lord bless us, your children
English translation of Sesotho version
Lord we ask You to protect our nation
Intervene and end all conflicts
Protect us, protect our nation
Protect South Africa, South Africa
English translation of Afrikaans version
Out of the blue of our heavens
Out of the depths of our seas
Over our everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound
Source: The Presidency