Flag of South Africa
The current flag of the Republic of South Africa was adopted on 27 April 1994, at the beginning of the 1994 general election, to replace the flag that had been used since 1928. The new national flag, designed by State Herald Frederick Brownell, was chosen to represent the new democracy.
The flag has horizontal bands of red (on the top) and blue (on the bottom), of equal width, separated by a central green band which splits into a horizontal "Y" shape, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side (and follow the flag's diagonals). The Y embraces a black isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands; the red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes. The stripes at the fly end are in the 5:1:3:1:5 ratio.
In blazons (a vexillological description using flag terminology), the South African flag is described as "per pall fesswise gules, sable and azure, a fesswise pall vert fimbriated argent, Or and argent."
Design and symbolism
According to official South African government information, the South African flag is "a synopsis of principal elements of the country's flag history." Although different people may attribute personal symbolism to the individual colours or colour combinations, "no universal symbolism should be attached to any of the colours." The only symbolism in the flag is the V or Y shape, which can be interpreted as "the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity.
From time to time explanations of the meanings or symbolism of the flag's colours are published in various media, including official government publications and speeches by government officials.
Three of the colours — black, green and yellow — are found in the flag of the African National Congress. The other three — red, white and blue — are used in the modern flag of the Netherlands and the flag of the United Kingdom; the colours white and blue were also found in the old flag of South Africa. Former South African President F.W. de Klerk, who proclaimed the new flag on 20 April 1994, stated in his autobiography, The Last Trek: a New Beginning, that chili red was chosen instead of plain red (which Anglo-Africans would have preferred) or orange (as Afrikaners would have preferred).
After the Anglo-Boer War from 1899 to 1902 and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the British Union Flag was the national flag in South Africa.
As was the case throughout the British Empire, the Red and Blue Ensign were the official flags for merchant and government vessels at sea, and the British Admiralty authorised them to be defaced with the shield of the South African coat of arms. These ensigns were not intended to be used as the Union's national flag, although they were used by some people as such.
The design of the Red Ensign was modified slightly in 1912
It was only after the first post-Union Afrikaner government took office in 1925 that a bill was introduced in Parliament to introduce a national flag for the Union. This provoked violent controversy that lasted for three years, as the British thought that the Afrikaners wanted to remove the imperial symbols. Natal Province even threatened to secede from the Union.
South Africa's national flag, 1928-1994. Ratio: 2:3
Finally, a compromise was reached that resulted in the adoption of a separate flag for the Union in late 1927 and the design was first hoisted on 31 May 1928. The design was based on the so-called Van Riebeeck flag or Prinsevlag ("Prince's flag" in Afrikaans) that was originally the Dutch flag; it consisted of orange, white, and blue horizontal stripes. A version of this flag had been used as the flag of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape (with the VOC logo in the centre) from 1652 until 1795. The South African addition to the design was three smaller flags centred in the white stripe. The smaller flags were the Union Flag (mirrored) towards the hoist, the flag of the Orange Free State (mirrored) hanging vertically in the middle and the Transvaal Vierkleur towards the fly.
The choice of the Prinsevlag as the basis upon which to design the South African flag had more to do with compromise than Afrikaner political desires, as the Prinsevlag was believed to be the first flag hoisted on South African soil and was politically neutral as it was no longer the national flag of any nation. A further element of this compromise was that the Union Flag would continue to fly alongside the new South African national flag over official buildings. This state of duality continued until 1957 when the Union Flag lost its official status per an Act of Parliament. The Red Ensign remained the merchant flag until 1 January 1960.
Following a referendum the country became a republic on 31 May 1961, but the design of the flag remained unchanged. However there was intense pressure to change the flag, particularly from Afrikaners who resented the fact that the Union Flag was a part of the flag.
Verwoerd's proposed flag
The former Prime Minister and architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, had a dream to hoist a "clean" flag over South Africa in the 1960s. The proposed design comprised three vertical stripes of the same colour of the Prinsevlag with a leaping Springbok Antelope over a wreath of six proteas in the centre. H.C. Blatt, then assistant secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister, designed the flag. Verwoerd's successor, John Vorster, raised the flag issue at a news conference on 30 March 1971 and said that in light of the impending 10th anniversary Republic Day celebrations, he preferred to "keep the affair in the background". This he said was done because he did not want the flag question to degenerate into a political football, as happened in the 1920s over the Union Flag, and that the matter would be considered again when circumstances would be "more normal". He also went on to say that "I only want to warn, and express hope, that no person should drag politics in any form into this matter, because the flag must, at all times, be raised above party politics in South Africa".
The present South African national flag was first flown on 27 April 1994. However, the flag was first commissioned as an interim flag only, and was decided upon at the very last minute, barely making it onto the nation's flagpoles in time for the election.
The choice of a new flag was part of the negotiation process set in motion when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. When a nationwide public competition was held in 1993, the National Symbols Commission received more than 7,000 designs. Six designs were drawn up and presented to the public and the Negotiating Council, but none elicited enthusiastic support. A number of design studios were contacted to submit further proposals, but they were again without success. Parliament went into recess at the end of 1993 without a suitable candidate for the new national flag.
None of the flag designs submitted by the public was supported by the committee charged to select the final design. An interim flag was designed by State Herald Frederick Brownell for the 27 April elections, the nation's first fully inclusive elections, and for Nelson Mandela's 10 May inauguration. Although the flag had mixed reception, the interim version was made the final, national flag in the South African Constitution. The new flag is seen as an enduring symbol of the modern South African state.
In February 1994, Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, chief negotiators of the African National Congress and the National Party government of the day respectively, were given the task of resolving the flag issue. A final design was adopted on 15 March 1994, derived from a design developed by Frederick Brownell, who had also designed the Flag of Namibia. The proclamation of the new national flag was only published on 20 April 1994, a mere seven days before the flag was to be inaugurated, sparking a frantic last-minute flurry for flag manufacturers. As stated in South Africa's post-apartheid interim constitution, the flag was to be introduced on an interim probationary period of five years, after which there would be discussion about whether or not to change the national flag in the final draft of the constitution. However, the flag was very well received and was included in the final draft without much debate.
Proper display of the flag
The South African government published rules for proper display of the flag at designated flag stations, in Government Notice 510 of 8 June 2001 (Gazette number 22356). These rules apply only to official flag stations and not to the general public.
The Southern African Vexillological Association (SAVA), a non-official association for the study of flags, published their own guide for proper display of the flag in 2002. This guide has no official authority but was drawn up with global vexillological principles in mind.
An addendum to the Transitional Executive Council agenda (April 1994) described the flag in heraldic terms as follows:
The National flag shall be rectangular in the proportion of two in the width to three to the length; per pall from the hoist, the upper band red (chilli) and 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 and blue, and gold against the black triangle at the hoist, and the width of the pall and its fimbriations is one third the width of the flag.
Schedule One of the Constitution of South Africa (1996) replaced the heraldic definition and described the flag in plain English as follows:
The national flag is rectangular; it is one and a half times as long as it is wide.
1. It is black, gold, green, white, chilli red and blue.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The triangle next to the flag post is black.
5. 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.
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