Pridekit - National Flag

The story of your flag

The South African flag is the only national flag in the world that has six colours forming a large part of the pattern. People are always wondering what the colours mean.

The red, sometimes thought to represent the Communist party, is another colour red - chilli red, which is somewhere between orange and red. This makes the flag brighter than if it had been a pure red. The design is what is important - it shows a sense of coming together, bringing together all the different peoples and practices of South Africa and going on ahead altogether.

Our multi-coloured flag may have had something to do with the acceptance of the term, Rainbow Nation, which was used by the famous Anglican Archbishop Tutu to describe the new South Africa after 1994.

But it was even before 1994 - in fact in 1990, after the release of Nelson Mandela from jail - that we began selecting a new national flag for South Africa to replace the old orange, blue and white one. In 1993 a National Symbols Commission was appointed to do this tactfully (remember, 1994 was still to come when the first democratic elections would be held). This Commission then invited the public to send designs for a new flag. Even though more than 7 000 designs were sent in, the Negotiating Council, who had appointed the National Symbols Commission, and the public did not find any that were suitable. Design studios were also invited to produce design but these were also not found to be suitable and still there was no national flag!

In 1994, just a few months before the elections, a technical committee was brought together and led by the State Herald, Fred Brownell. They had one week to find a flag. In two days they came up with four designs, all to do with the ideas of linking or joining up. Two of these designs were sketches that Fred Brownell had made the year before when he had been in Switzerland at a vexillological (flag specialists') congress. It was one of these that was finally presented the month before elections were due. It was approved. The design was approved by both sides of the transitional governement then and also sent to Nelson Mandela who happened to be in Rustenburg so he received it and approved it by fax!

This bright flag with its lines of colour that come together was to be the 'interim' flag for South Africa. This was because the country had an 'interim' constitution at that point, which meant it was just for the time being (the real constitution would only be approved in 1996).

The people of South Africa saw it hoisted above their country in April for the first time as they went to the polls for their first democratic elections.

By the time President Mandela was inaugurated two weeks later, we already loved our flag. It first represented South Africa at the 15th Commonwealth Games in Canada.

When the interim government ended and we had our own constitution, the 'interim' flag was already hugely popular and there was no talk or chance of changing it. It has since gone into space with Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and been planted on Mount Everest by Sibusiso Vilane in 2003.

How to draw the South African flag

  1. Draw a rectangle in the proportion of 3 in the length to 2 in the height (for example, try making it 18cm long, to 12cm high).
  2. With your pencil, mark off the points that will divide it into 3, down the height (eg every 4cm if your flag is 12cm high) on each side. Now, with a ruler draw the lines across.
  3. Now make diagonal lines, joining both corners in each case, so that you have a diagonal cross.
  4. These lines will form the centre of the cross. On each side of them draw parallel lines so that the width of the cross is the same as the width of the horizontal lines (eg 3cms if you used the size above - so 1½cm on either side of the cross's central lines)
  5. Where the thick cross meets the central horizontal third, it stops, so that a Y on its side is formed (see diagrams). Rub out your other cross lines.
  6. Within the Y-shaped area that extends from the corners of the flagpost (the pall) to the outer edge of the fly, draw a series of parallel lines. Their distance should between the lines should be one fifth of the width of the flag (eg 3cm if you used the above measurements).
  7. Colour the surfaces as shown.

The dimensions of the flag