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South African flag observed more closely

Last modified: 2006-01-28 by bruce berry
Keywords: south africa | construction sheet |
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[Flag of South Africa] image by Mark Sensen and António Martins, 09 Mar 2000
Flag adopted 27 Apr 1994 For all other South African pages see: See also:

Origin and colours of the new flag

The NY Times reports the color specifications as "Blue Black", "Gold Yellow", "Spectrum Green:, "Chili Red", "National Flag White" and "National Flag Blue". One wonders if the last is the same as "Old Glory Blue". The arms of the republic did not change until 2000, and continues to reflect the four defunct provinces.
Will Linden

South Africa's current flag - designed for the "interim" period - will remain the country's national flag under the final constitution which comes into force in 1999, the Constitutional Assembly (charged with writing the final constitution) recommended on 28 September 1995.
Bruce Berry, 02 Oct 1995

South Africans call this the "rainbow nation" based on the multi racial, multi ethnic and multi cultural composition of the country, hence many refer to the new flag as the "rainbow" flag.... I spend a considerable amount of time explaining that the gay movement already uses this phrase for their flag and that we should think of another term when referring to our national flag!!!
Bruce Berry, 09 May 1996

I remember when the current South African flag was hoisted on 27 April 1994, that it was to be in place for a five-year period with an option to renew - that five-year period, will be up in a few months, is there any movement to change the flag, or is the flag too well-loved there?
David Kendall, 13 Feb 1999

When the new SA flag was chosen it was regarded as an "interim" flag in line with the "interim" constitution through which South Africa achieved full democracy in 1994.  Subsequently, a Constitutional Assembly has drawn up a new Constitution (adopted on 8 May 1996 and amended on 11 October 1996) which was enacted by Parliament as Act Number 108 of 1996.  As part of the process in drawing up the new Constitution, the question was asked whether the flag should be retained or a new one designed.  The overwhelming response was the new flag should be retained.  Consequently, the flag is now "permanent" and is described in Schedule 1 of the Constitution.
So the existing South African flag is here to stay.
Bruce Berry, 15 Feb 1999

The current South African flag was designed by Mr Fred Brownell, State Herald (and SAVA Chairperson).
Bruce Berry, 26 March 1999

Here is the flag as defined in the 1996 (most recent, permanent) Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Schedule 1: National Flag)
(Note that the colours are different both to those reported by Will Linden and the heraldic tinctures, and that it is in legal rather than heraldic language).

(1) The national flag is rectangular; it is one and a half times longer than it is wide.
(2) It is black, gold, green, white, chilli red and blue [my emphasis]
(3) It has a green Y-shaped band that is one fifth as wide as the flag. The centre lines of the band start in the top and bottom corners next to the flag post, converge in the centre of the flag, and continue horizontally to the middle of the free edge.
(4) The green band is edged, above and below in white, and towards the flag post end, in gold. Each edging is one fifteenth as wide as the flag.
(5) The triangle next to the flag post is black.
(6) The upper horizontal band is chilli red and the lower horizontal band is blue. These bands are each one third as wide as the flag.
Max Lewis, 02 June 2005

Is the flag officially based on the previous flag and that of the ANC?
If so, and even if not, why the change to red? To evoke other flags (the Union Jack, state flags) as well? To reduce the "influence" of the previous regime?
Nathan Lamm, 02 June 2005

The basic design of the current South African flag was by Fred Brownell - legend has it that he sketched this design with the pall on the back of a cigarette box in a Zurich restaurant during ICV 15 in 1993. He was in early in 1994 the Convenor of the Technical Sub-committee who had to finalise a flag for the country in a great hurry after previous more deliberate attempts had failed. The result of this committee's efforts were four designs of which the current flag was the final choice of the Cabinet. Regarding the choice of colours - after consulting with Fred (the horses mouth) when I did my research on the flag for the South African Flag Book, I wrote it up as follows in the chapter which discusses the origins of the new flag:

"While the colours do not have any official symbolism, the State Herald, Mr FG Brownell said that they represent a synopsis of the country's vexillological history and current political realities. The design in turn represents a converging of paths, the merging of both past and present. Black, green and gold, which were first incorporated into South African national flags in the nineteenth century, also feature prominently in the flags of the liberation movements, particularly those of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress. Blue, white and red reflect the British and Dutch influence, which also featured in the former
South African flag. The green pall is commonly interpreted to mean the unification of the various ethnic groups. Like its predecessor, the new flag represents a compromise".

To everyone's astonishment and unlike the previous compromise, this one was very quickly taken to heart by the whole population no matter of which political persuasion. To account for this quite un-South African phenomenon (agreement on matters of national importance does not occur very often in the South African body politic), I wrote as follows in a later chapter:

"The designer of the new national flag of the Republic of South Africa stated that the combination of colours in the flag reflects the flag history of South Africa. The practical effect is that it includes the colours of the ANC and the colours of the former republics and colonies. Thus we see the black, green and gold of the ANC and other liberation movements; the green, red, white and blue of the old ZAR Vierkleur; the orange (gold), red, white and blue of the OFS Vierkleur; the red, white and blue of the Union Jack that flew over the former colonies; the colours of the smaller republics such as Goshen and Stellaland; and finally the orange (gold) white and blue of the Union and the old Republic of South Africa. This fortunate combination of colours was therefore also no doubt a subliminal reason why the new flag was so readily accepted by all parts of the republic's heterogeneous population. Everyone saw some part of its history included in the flag, which was leading us on to a new future".

I stretch things a bit by equating gold with orange, but it is not that far off and it suits the argument!
Andries Burgers, 02 June 2005

Regarding the language, the original blazon for the flag read as follows:
"The new national flag recommended by the Sub-Committee to the TEC is subscribed in the sub-committee's report of 15 March (1994) as follows:

"The National Flag shall be rectangular in the proportion of two in the width to three in the length: per pall from the hoist, the upper band red (chilli) and the lower band blue, with a black triangle at the hoist; over the partition lines a green pall one fifth the width of the flag, fimbriated white against the red (chilli) and blue, and gold against the black triangle at the hoist; the width of the pall and its fimbriations is one third the width of the flag."

The Constitutional Assembly which had to draft the new permanent constitution, resolved early on during its deliberations, to write it in layman's language so as to be understood by all levels of the population, as opposed the convoluted Latinised legalese based on the Roman-Dutch legal system which had been the practice hitherto and a lawyer's paradise in consequence. This resulted in the language which you quote from the constitution to describe the flag.

Regarding the tinctures: In a private specification released on 18 March 1994, and prepared by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) for the Office of the State President, and which covers the materials, design and make of the new National Flag of South Africa, the following colours are specified:

Colour CKS (Colour Number)
Green 42c (Spectrum green)
Black 401c (Blue/Black)
White 701c (National Flag white)
Gold 724c (Gold/yellow)
Red 750c (Chilli red)
Blue 762c (National Flag blue)
Andries Burgers, 02 June 2005

The "chilli" red on the current South African flag is a deliberate choice. It is to recall the red of the Union Jack and Dutch flags and the orange of the previous flag - hence a combination of the two!

Both orange and red have been dominant colours in the former flags of South Africa - not only in the previous flag but also in the flags of the former Boer republics (Orange Free State, Natalia, Transvaal etc.) and in the colonial flags of the Cape and Natal.
Bruce Berry, 03 June 2005

Andries' argument suits perfectly except I associate "chilli red" more with orange, particularly in the arrangement seen on the flag (yellow between green and black, while red-white-blue in the old "Dutch" arrangements).

What does it mean that green, yellow, and black first appeared on national flags in the 19th century? Flags of European settlers? Of native Africans?
Nathan Lamm, 03 June 2005

There was no indigenous flag use in Southern Africa before the advent of the Europeans. The nearest flag use was by the Arab slaving stations along the
northern Mozambique coast. The green colour of the ZAR Vierkleur (four colour) appeared first in 1854. It was basically a Dutch tricolour with a vertical green bar. It served subsequently as a model for other flags such as the short-lived republic of Goshen (1882) and the New Republic (1884). Stellaland Republic also sported green in their flag. Black also appeared in the Goshen republic which had a German civil flag with a green vertical bar. Yellow was not a designed colour in any South African flags of the 19th century, but the orange of the Orange Free State Republic's flag was often depicted as yellow. The ANC adopted the black, green and yellow colours for their flag in 1925 and it subsequently served as a model for several other liberation movements.
Andries Burgers, 03 June 2005

Nickname for the flag

Here are some suggestions about a "nickname" for the flag:
  • Considering what South Africa has gone through, and what the flag looks like, I suggest: Black and Blue and Red all over - Nathan Bliss
  • I personally like the Southern Pall. Or maybe the "Southern Crane"? (Legend has it that the letter "Y" derives from a Greek who saw a flight of cranes in that formation...) - Dipesh Navsaria
  • I've heard the flag described - very unflatteringly - as the Technicolour Y-fronts.... Hmmm... how about the Unity Flag, or something similar? - James Dignan
  • The "Southern Union" would be good, if it didn't sound so much like a wire service or a train line. How about "The Southern Unity"? Gives it a good, poetic quality - Steve Kramer
  • "Jack Boven", or maybe "Oranje Union"? "The Flying Y"? Three Cheers for the "Red, White, And Blue, And Black, And Yellow, And Green" "Rainbow Salad" "The Southern Pall"? "The Green Pall"? "The Flying Pall"? ("Pall" being the heraldic term for the "Y" shape on a coat-of-arms - maybe even "The Union Pall"?) - Nick Artimovich
See newspaper article below on the quest for a distinct name for the South African flag.
Our flag, the AmaFlappaFlappa?
Daily News, July 02 2002 at 10:59AM
By Barbara Cole

The South African flag is one of the most recognisable in the world - yet does not have a name.
So when wildlife tourism publishers, WildNet Africa published Flying With Pride: The Story Of The South African Flag, they called for suggestions. They have released the first 100 suggestions, which include fascinating and thought-provoking names. There's AmaFlappaFlappa, Fluttering Rainbow, Yebo Flag, Shosholoza and Forever Glorious.

Nkosi Johnson - the late child Aids activist - was another idea  Former president Nelson Mandela gets plenty of mention too. Some people want the flag to be known as Madiba, or Madiba's Rainbow, the Mandela Flag, or even just Nelson.

"Pride" and "rainbow" got plenty of mentions - Pride of Africa; Rainbow of Hope, Rainbow Pride, Rainbow Warrior, as did Renaissance, South Africa Good Hope, South Africa Pride, the Ray of Hope, the Rainbow and The Winds of Change.

While the name will eventually be decided by the custodians of the country's national symbols, the government's Bureau of Heraldry, Dr Andrew McKenzie, director of special projects at WildNet Africa, said that people could still send in suggestions to the website, or to PO Box 73528, Lynnwood Ridge, 0040.

"We want to keep the debate open and alive," McKenzie said.
Bruce Berry, 02 Jul 2002

Debates on the origins of the present flag

[ISCOR logo] sent by Neville Purdon, 21 Mar 2001

In South Africa the largest iron ore producer (ISCOR) has a 'Y' flag.  Many in SA believe, somewhat erroneously, that this is where the so-called 'New' South African flag got its origin. Above is the Iscor flag (The Afrikaans name is Yskor).
Neville Purdon, 18 Mar 2001

Do you know if there was any input from the iron ore company in the designing of the new South African flag? I think the connection is rather remote. I wonder what "ISCOR" is - maybe "The Iron and Steel Company of RSA"?
Rob Raeside, 21 Mar 2001

Your guess is not far from it. The acronym ISCOR stands for Iron and Steel Corporation and YSKOR for Yster en Staal Korporasie. I have never seen it as a flag though, merely as a company logo and perhaps a logo type of flag (as that is quite common in South Africa). As far as I know it had absolutely nothing to do with the new South African flag.
Franc Van Diest, 22 Mar 2001

Franc is correct.  ISCOR does stand for the Iron and Steel Corporation of South Africa.  The symbol is a combination of the I (for Iron) and Y (for the Afrikaans “Yster”). There is no connection between this symbol (logo) and the new South African flag according to Fred Brownell, the designer of the new South African flag. 

According to Mr. Brownell the colours of the new flag do not really have symbolic meanings in themselves.  People do sometimes assign meanings to these colours but this was not the case with the flag was designed.  While the colours of the South African 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.  The 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) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC) and are also found in the flags of the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP), and thus represent the country's black communities.  The 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 and represent the white population.

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.
Bruce Berry, 22 Mar 2001

In order to keep abreast of latest developments, readers might be interested to learn that the name ISCOR was laid to rest over this past weekend when Ispat Iscor officially changed its name to Mittal Steel South Africa to reflect the global steel empire to which the former South African parastatal now belongs.

Iscor began in the 1920s with the South African government being the original shareholder. After decades of providing sheltered employment for whites, it became the first state-owned entity to be privatised in a R3,7 billion deal in 1989 when it listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange. Its name changed to Ispat Iscor in August 2004 when Anglo-Dutch group LNM Holdings increased its shareholding to more than 50%. The change to Mittal Steel SA follows the acquisition by Ispat International, 77% owned by the Mittal family, of LNM and its merger with International Steel Group in the USA to form the world's biggest steel company in a deal valued at $17,8 billion.

Given that the logo and flag of Iscor was based on its English and Afrikaans acronym, I expect it will change to reflect its new corporate name and identity.
Bruce Berry, 15 Mar 2005

The former Colonies

Were any British Ensigns in use in South Africa before 1910? What were the flags of the Cape Colony and Natal? Did the Boer states retain their "native" flags under British control?
Josh Fruhlinger, 01 Oct 1996

All four colonies had flag badges - they formed the four quarters of the post-1910 flag badge which was itself the shield of arms of the Union of South Africa (and, if I recall correctly, is still used by the "New South Africa" today, as no-one has yet come up with a better design acceptable to all).
Roy Stilling, 02 Oct 1996

Yes - SAVA published a Journal entitled "The Union Jack over Southern and Central Africa, 1795 - 1994" [brl94] in 1994 which covers all these flags (and those used in what is now Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi etc).
Bruce Berry, 07 Oct 1996

See for separate articles on the colonies :

South African flag construction sheet

[SA flag construction sheet] sent by Bruce Berry, 27 Nov 2000 - click on the image for a 640 x 466 image!

At this site is a construction sheet that describes the flag of South Africa. Quite simple specifications: 2:3 background, length of the pall 1/5th of the height, length of the pale plus fimbriations 1/3rd (thus fimbriations are 1/15th), arms of the pale parallel to the hoist semi-diagonals of the flag. Colors are described by names only ("gold" is used, not "yellow") but red is defined as "red (chilli)".
Antonio Martins, 9 Mar 2000

 image by Zachary Harden, 13 Feb 2005

With the assistance of Mike Clingman of the National Flag manufacturing company in Johannesburg, I have made a construction sheet for the South African national flag. The original gif used was made by Antonio Martins and Mark Sensen.
Zachary Harden, 13 Feb 2005

I do not, for a moment, wish to denigrate your excellent effort, but if you don't mind me saying so Zach a much simpler construction diagram was issued by the South African Bureau of Standards in SABS 212 (Second Edition), 1998, which shows a flag of 30 x 60 units, with the upper and lower horizontal panels at 10 each, and the fimbriation and green stripe at 2-6-2.
Christopher Southworth, 13 Feb 2005

If I am not entirely mistaken, the numbers do not add up:
14.4+44.2+14.4=73 <> 72

While at it, you may want to consider using different number that give the same proportions but without decimal point. e.g.

On such a construction sheet those dimensions you provide are not enough for unambiguous drawing. This may possibly be improved by indicating that the slanted elements are made along the virtual diagonal bands, as for the UK flag.
Željko Heimer, 13 Feb 2005

Yes, and I know the image was featured on our website. However, I noticed when Željko was making construction sheets, he wanted to make it small enough to fit on our site (using the 216x432, 324, etc). That is what I am trying to accomplish.

The fly end has three sections, 72-72-72. The middle section is split up into five parts. Two parts, the first and fifth part, is white. The rest is green. However, Željko is right and that my maths was not right. I forgot to get rid of the 44.2 and make it 43.2. I have re-sent the image.

Is the SA flag still 2:3 ratio?
Zachary Harden, 13 Feb 2005

The most recent official information I have dates from 1998 and according to this the South African flag is (as it was from its inception) 2:3, whilst the construction details I gave i.e: fly measurements of 10-2-6-2-10 (or 1/3, 1/15, 1/5, 1/15, 1/3) - the same as for the Cross of St George and fimbriation in the Union Jack - are exactly those given by the South African Bureau of Standards in the quoted source. There is, however (and if I may say so), one item missing from your spec and that is the diagonal cross (running from corner to corner) which places the diagonal parts of the green stripe.
Christopher Southworth, 13 Feb 2005

In respect of those numbers which don't add up - the "44.2"s should be "43.2". In fact, that means the whole thing can be simplified by dividing by 7.2, making the length 45 and the width of the stripes 10, 2, 6, 2, and 10 respectively.
James Dignan, 14 Feb 2004

Variation of South Africa national flag

I saw in Walvis Bay (Namibia) a variation of the South Africa national flag. The same flag but the red was changed for orange.
Santiago Tazón, 25 Oct 1999

Use of the Queen's personal flag in SA in 1995

When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited South Africa in 1995 - her first visit since 1947, when she celebrated her 21st birthday in Cape Town - she used her personal flag since South Africa was (once again, as of 1994) a member of the Commonwealth, yet still a republic. I think people in this country (South Africa) need reminding that we have a link with the Queen, as opposed to the years between 1961 and 1994 when there was no connection whatever. Most people here don't even remember that Elizabeth not only was Queen of South Africa, but that this was the first Commonwealth country to accord her a distinct national title, as opposed to her simply being styled "Queen of the United Kingdom . . . and of Her Dominions beyond the Seas".
Mike Oettle, 16 Jan 2002