South Africa’s flag reflects its diverse and vibrant history. A relatively young flag, the current design has only been in use since 1994 and replaced the older design that had represented the country since 1928.
The South African flag features horizontal bands of red and blue on the top and bottom, respectively. They are separated by a green Y design outlined in white, and the triangle created by the green is filled in with black and outlined in a thin yellow stripe. Its colorful and bold appearance is reflective of a people and culture that is proud of their heritage and future. Each part of the South African flag’s design has an intentional meaning, which is remarkable given the short timeline of its actual design process.
The flag was commissioned in 1994 just before South Africa’s 1994 general election in the hopes that it would represent the country’s new emerging democracy. With only a few months left until the election, the committee was given one week to draft a new design. The committee chose former State Herald Fred Brownell as the head of their design team, as Brownell had attended a vexillological conference in Switzerland during the previous year and already sketched a few designs. With little time to spare, one of these sketches was selected and hurriedly faxed to Nelson Mandela in Rustenburg for approval.
The design was approved as an interim flag only, to correspond with the interim government at the time, but it later became an enduring symbol of the new South Africa. It was raised for the first time on the same day as the country’s first national elections, April 27th, 1994, the day still known as Freedom Day.
The colors represented in the South African flag hold historical symbolism connected to the election and the decades of history that preceded it. The ruling ANC party’s colors, black, yellow, and green, make up the Y design of the flag’s centerpiece. Red, white, and blue, are reminiscent of both the European colonists and old Boer republics that once held power over South Africa. Rather than a divisive symbol, the Y design symbolizes the convergence and unity of the South African people. It is said that the South African flag was modeled on the same motto beneath the country’s National Coat of Arms, which reads ‘!ke e:/xarra //ke’ which means ‘diverse people unite’ in the Khoisan language.