A look at our National Symbols

The South African flag, unfurled on 27 April 1994, replaced the old flag that represented the country from 31 May 1928.   Its colours are bold and vibrant.  The chilli red/orange, white and blue date back to the earliest times of the country’s flag history, while the green, black and gold are regarded as colours of Africa.  The unique central design of the flag, that begins as a “V” at the flag post and comes together in the centre, extending further as a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly, represents convergence of diverse elements in our society, which then take the road together. This links up with the motto/slogan on the Coat of Arms, with the meaning as far as it is possible to translate “unity in diversity”.

The national Coat of Arms, or State emblem, is the highest visual symbol of the State.

The South African Coat of Arms depicts elements organised in a series of oval shapes.  The first element is the motto, in a green semi-circle.  The motto, in Khoisan,  is  /ke e: /xarra / / ke, meaning “unity in diversity”.  Completing the semi-circle are two pairs of elephant tusks pointing upwards, symbolising wisdom strength, moderation and eternity.  Within the oval shape formed by the tusks and the motto, are two symmetrical ears of wheat symbolising fertility and growth, which, in turn, frame a gold shield. The shape of the shield makes reference to the drum, and contains two human figures from Khoisan rock art.  They face one another in greeting and unity and symbolise a shared heritage (the figures are derived from images on the Linton Stone, a world famous example of South African rock art, now on display in the S.A. Museum in Cape Town). Above the shield are a spear and a knobkierie (club), crossed and lying down as a symbol of peace. The visual centre of the Coat of Arms is a king protea (the national flower), the petals in a triangular pattern reminiscent of the crafts of Africa, and with the most popular colours of Africa (green, gold, red and black) also symbolising the life and growth of our nation with its various population groups. A secretary bird (symbolising protection) is above the protea, and the flower forms the bird’s chest. The rising sun above the horizon (symbol of energy and life on earth) completes the oval shape of ascendance.

The national animal is the Springbuck that has, since at least 1906, been considered the country’s national animal. The national tree is the Real Yellowwood that has been present in our part of Africa for more than 100 million years.  The national bird is the Blue Crane that is only found in Southern Africa (south of the Zambesi and Kunene Rivers), and in the Etosha Pan region of Namibia.  The national fish is the Galjoen, found only along the South African coast, and probably the first tropical fish to be noticed by the earlier settlers. The King Protea, already mentioned, was officially chosen as the country’s national floral emblem in 1975.

South Africa’s National Anthem is a unique combination of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and Die Stem (the anthem in the previous regime). Enoch Sontonga
composed the first song in 1897.  The words of the first stanza were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn.  Seven additional stanzas were later added by the poet Samuel Mqhayi. For decades the song was regarded by the oppressed as South Africa’s national anthem.  A proclamation by the State President on 20 April 1994 stipulated that both Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and Die Stem (The Call of South Africa) would be the country’s national anthems.  In 1996 a shorter, combined version of the two was released as the new national anthem. There are no standard versions of translations, so the words vary from place to place and from occasion to occasion.  Generally the first stanza is sung in Xhosa or Zulu, followed by the Sesotho version. Then follows a part of Die Stem in Afrikaans, with a conclusion in English.

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