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South Africa

Republic of South Africa, Republiek van Suid-Afrika, IRiphabliki yeSewula Afrika, IRiphabliki yaseMz

Last modified: 2016-05-14 by bruce berry
Keywords: south africa |
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[Flag of South Africa] [Variant] 2:3~ image by Mark Sensen and Antonio Martins, 09 Mar 2000
Flag adopted 27 Apr 1994 See also: For all other South African pages see:

Origin and colours of the new flag

The strips are red/orange and blue, the same of the previous flag. The added colors are the same of African National Congress's flag, which is composed of three equal horizontal strips: black, green and yellow. Therefore I argue that the new flag is the merge of the two flags. Apart from strips' colors (orange and blue instead of red and green), the colour of the second fimbration (green instead of black) and the absence of a coat in the triangle, the new South African flag is very similar to Vanuatu's.
Giuseppe Bottasini

C-SPAN (Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network), reporting on the election in South Africa, showed the "interim" flag which will be used for the next five years; the new parliament will choose a permanent flag. In English blazon, it is: Tierced in pairle couchy sable, gules and azure, a pairle couchy vert fimbriated or to dexter and argent to chief and base.

I think the interim flag for South Africa is said to be composed of the colours of flags of past administrations. Which is as plausible as anything, since it includes all the heraldic tinctures.
Anton Sherwood

The current South African flag was designed by Mr Fred Brownell, State Herald of South Africa.
Bruce Berry, 26 Mar 1999

Colour Specifications
Album 2000 gives the official (Pantone) and approximate (CMYK) specifications as follows:

Red:            179c         C0-M90-Y90-K0
Green:       3415c         C100-M0-Y80-K20
Yellow:     1235c          C0-M25-Y80-K0
Blue: Reflex Blue c        C100-M80-Y0-K0

Ivan Sache, 15 Jan 2002

The South African flag pantones as I have them are:

Uncoated surfaces:                        Coated surfaces:
Blue:      287u                                     288c
Red:       485u (x2)                             485c
Yellow:  116u                                     1235c
Green:    355u                                     349c
Source: SA Bureau of Standards - Specifications for the National Flag, 2nd ed.
Bruce Berry, 21 Jan 2002

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual, London, 2012 [bib-lna.html]) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each National Olympic Committee was sent an image of their flag, including the PMS shades, by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) for their approval. Once this was obtained, the LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specifications may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the National Olympic Committee believed their flag to be.

For South Africa : PMS 179 orange/red, 3415 green, reflex blue, 1235 yellow and black. The vertical flag is the horizontal version reversed and turned 90 degrees anti-clockwise - black at the top, orange/red on the left, blue on the right.
Ian Sumner, 10 Oct 2012

Symbolism of the flag

The colours of the South African flag do not really have symbolic meanings in themselves.  People do sometimes assign meanings to the colours (such as red for blood, yellow for mineral wealth etc.) but this is not the case with the current South African flag.  According to Mr. Frederick Brownell, the former State Herald who played a large role in the original design, while the colours of the flag do not have any official symbolism, they do represent a synopsis of the country’s flag history.  The design in turn, represents a converging of paths, the merging of both the past and the present.

Black, gold and green, which were first incorporated into South African national flags in the 19th century, also feature prominently in the flags of the liberation movements, particularly the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-African Congress (PAC) and Inkatha.  These colours can thus be said to broadly represent the country's black population.

Blue, white, red and green reflect the British and Dutch (later Boer) influence, as shown in the earliest flags flown in South Africa, and also featured prominently in the old South African National Flag (1928-1994) and thus represent the white population of South Africa.

The green pall (the Y-shape) is commonly interpreted to mean the unification of the various ethnic groups and the moving forward into a new united South Africa.

The South African flag is the only national flag to contain six colours as part of its primary design (excluding those flags which contain various colour shades as part of the detail of coats of arms or other charges etc.).
Bruce Berry
, 14 Feb 2000

The History and Heritage Section of the South Africa.Info web site has a lengthy section on the present flag of the Republic of South Africa, with some interesting information.  The flag material is entitled 'Fly, the beloved flag,' a very clever play on the title of Alan Paton's novel 'Cry, the Beloved Country,' one of the first works in English to describe the former apartheid state.
Ron Lahav, 12 Nov 2008

Interview with the designer of the flag

Here is an interview with the designer of the South African flag by the BBC on the 20th anniversary of the: adoption of the flag (27 April 2014):

Fred Brownell: The man who made South Africa's flag

The multi-coloured flag of modern South Africa is a symbol of its post-apartheid rebirth. But while Nelson Mandela led the country on a "long walk" to freedom, the creation of the flag 20 years ago was a frantic sprint by an unsung hero, writes Xin Fan.

On a Saturday night at the end of February 1994 Fred Brownell's phone rang. The voice on the other end asked him to get a new national flag designed - within a week.

"It scared the living daylights out of me," says Brownell, now 74 and living in retirement in Pretoria.

Brownell was state herald, and had long known that the emerging new South Africa would need a new flag, but until this point he had not been asked to play a central role.

Initially, members of the public had been asked for their ideas. Some 7,000 sketches had been sent in, but none was judged appropriate. Then the authorities had turned to design studios. That too proved fruitless.

he months had passed by and now the first democratic elections - when the new flag was expected to be fluttering in the South African breeze - were little more than eight weeks away. Hence the urgent Saturday night call to Brownell.

Fortunately, he had already given the subject some thought.

He had been asking himself for some time what the new South African flag should look like. But his sketches had all ended up in the wastepaper basket until one day in August 1993, when he sat listening to an "interminable speech" at an international flag conference in Zurich.

"My mind started wandering," he recalls. "And then it struck me - aren't we looking for convergence and unification?" The convergence of the disparate groups within South African society, and their unification in one democratic state.

He flipped over the conference programme and started sketching. Three arms came in from the flagpole side of the flag (the "hoist") and became one.

"I was struck by the extent it resonated with what Mandela had in mind. 'Yes, it might work!' I thought," Brownell remembers.

His first idea was for the three-pronged shape to be coloured red, with green and blue at top and bottom, but he soon concluded it looked better with the colours switched around - the three-pronged shape in green, red at the top and blue at the bottom.

But the flag needed other colours too. "I think one must realise that red, white and blue or orange white and blue harked back to South Africa's colonial heritage," Brownell says.

Gold was the first he added, then black - both colours found on the flags of the African National Congress, the Zulus' Inkatha Freedom Party, and various other political groupings in South Africa.

The final design also used a particular orangey shade of red known as chilli red, which is mid-way between the colours of the British and Dutch colonial-era flags but at the same time reminiscent of South Africa's coral trees, Brownell says, and the flat hats worn by married Zulu women.

The only other change to the design was made at the suggestion of Brownell's daughter, Claire, a young schoolteacher.

"Dad, use your brain!" she said. "People will stand that on its head and turn it into the nuclear peace sign. The middle leg must go."

The three arms converging into one, became just two arms converging into one.

So when Brownell got the call asking him to have the issue "solved within the week" he was not starting completely from scratch.

In the end it came down to five proposals, two of them Brownell's. Of the others, one was based on an idea from the ANC, another came to a member of the committee Brownell had hastily convened in the middle of a plane flight.

The choice was put to (the then) State President FW de Klerk, who said it was not a decision he could take alone and called an impromptu cabinet meeting. "I noticed their eyes", says Brownell. "They were being drawn to my design."

Sure enough it was one of his drawings that was selected. Officials then contacted ANC negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa, and a tense wait ensued. His approval finally came through later that afternoon.

Many years later Brownell learned that Ramaphosa too had not wished to act alone, and had contacted Nelson Mandela, then in Rustenburg in the north-east of the country, to get his personal blessing.

"A design had been sent to Mandela by fax. Somebody on the other end had to run down to the stationery shop, grab some colouring pencils, and colour in the flag," says Brownell.

Luckily, Brownell says, "Mandela was happy with it."

That same day, 15 March 1994, the design was unanimously adopted by the Transitional Executive Council, which asked President de Klerk to issue a proclamation adopting the national flag. But for reasons that Brownell still cannot explain, the proclamation was made only on 20 April, seven days before the election.

During the wait, Brownell says, "lots of us were going frantic".

"Flag manufacturers were screaming high and low. South Africa could only produce 5,000 flags per week, and at least around 100,000 were needed for April 27th to fill every flagpole in the country."

Manufacturers in the Netherlands helped save the day, although not before exhausting Europe's entire stock of flag material and having to import it from Japan.

"Public reaction was muted, originally," recalls Brownell. "But once Mandela was inaugurated on 10 May, with the flags draped over Union Buildings in Pretoria, people warmed to the fact they had a new president, with a new flag to go with him.

"The level of acceptance exceeded my wildest expectations," he says.

Asked what might have prompted him to come up with his initial three-pronged design, Brownell reflects that it was probably embedded in his mind from childhood.

"I grew up in the Anglican church and this particular design was in fact incorporated into the classical chasubles [outer vestments] worn by priests in both the Catholic and Anglican church," he says.

"In recent years chasubles have changed very much, but that was the classic design."

Twenty years on, Brownell is quietly pleased with his work.

He still sees the "convergence and unification" of a diverse country reflected in the flag, and insists there is no-one in South Africa who does not recognise in it colours they hold dear.

"I feel happy to have contributed in some small way."

(Submitted by Esteban Rivera, 10 Apr 2016)