History and heritage


Fly, the beloved flag

It's a potent symbol of unity and progress. It's the only six-coloured national flag in the world. It's also one of the youngest, yet whatever shape it takes - and it's taken more than any other national symbol - it's instantly recognisable to South Africans everywhere.

Fly your flag with pride - and respect!

See the Flag Tips box on the right, or go to the full SA Flag Guide for info on displaying the flag correctly - and on how to draw and colour your own flag.
Logo: South African Tourism The new South African national flag first flew on 10 May 1994 - the day Nelson Mandela became president, two weeks after the country's first democratic elections of 27 April 1994 - "not as a symbol of a political party, nor of a government, but as a possession of the people - the one thing that is literally and figuratively above all else, our flag".

Logo: South African Airways The quote comes from the introduction to Flying with Pride: The Story of the South African Flag, a coffee table book derived from the incredible variety of ways in which this unique cloth has become woven into the fabric of South African society.

Logo: First African in Space As in the case of the rocket logo used for IT billionaire Mark Shuttleworth's First African in Space project, the South African flag has become integrated into butterflies, bow ties, company logos, trees, top hats, hot air balloons, umbrellas, underwear ... the list goes on. The South African flag has no equal in this respect.

Logo: Wines of South Africa Yet the flag was originally commissioned as an interim flag only - and was a last-minute job, barely making it onto the country's flagpoles in time to herald the new South Africa.

Mark Shuttleworth flies the flag in zero gravity "Afronaut" Mark Shuttleworth - the first African in space - flying the flag in zero gravity (Photo: First African in Space)

Logo: Proudly South African

How the flag came to be

Choosing 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.

Logo: South African Broadcasting Corporation A number of design studios were contracted to submit further proposals - again without success - and Parliament went into recess at the end of 1993 without a suitable candidate for the new national flag.

The SA flag flies on the highest point on earth The SA flag flies on the highest point on earth for the first time in history: 25 May 1996, Ian Woodall (left) and Cathy O'Dowd. (Photo: Cathy O'Dowd)

Logo: Tourism Grading Council of South Africa 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 tasked with resolving the flag issue. A final design was adopted on 15 March 1994 - derived from a design developed by SA's former State Herald, Fred Brownell.

Logo: Homecoming Revolution The proclamation of the new national flag was only published on 20 April 1994 - seven days before the flag was to be inaugurated on the 27th, sparking a frantic last-minute flurry for flag manufacturers.

Logo: SA Masters Sports Association Writing in the foreword to Flying with Pride, Ramaphosa comments: "It was difficult to imagine, back then in the days of negotiations, that this assortment of shapes and colours we had before us would become such a central part of defining and identifying a new nation.

Logo: Department of Agriculture "As South Africans daily work to build a better society, they are surrounded in many forms and countless manifestations by a flag which recognises and celebrates the unity and diversity of the country's people.

Logo: Flying With Pride "Few would have imagined, almost a decade ago, that this collection of colourful shapes could become such a potent symbol of unity and progress. But then fewer still would have thought that a country torn apart by decades of racial oppression could transform itself into a beacon of democracy and hope."

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SA, unite behind the Bokke!

'As South Africans daily work to build a better society, they are surrounded in many forms and countless manifestations by a flag which recognises and celebrates the unity and diversity of the country's people' Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo: South African Tourism)

Tips on flying South Africa's flag

The South African flag: horizontal
  • When displayed horizontally, the black triangle should be to your left and the red band uppermost. If the red band is at the bottom, you're flying your flag upside down the traditional sign of surrender (or if you're at sea, the international maritime signal of distress)!
  • The South African flag: vertical
  • When draped vertically, a flag should not merely be rotated through 90 degrees, but also reversed. In the case of the South African flag, the black triangle must be uppermost and the red band to your left. (One "reads" a flag like the pages of a book from top to bottom and from left to right and after rotation the results should be the same.)
  • The flag may not be defaced by placing slogans or any writing or design directly on the field of the flag. Any writing should appear next to or underneath the image of the flag.
  • The flag must always be treated with dignity and respect. According to the Regulations Regarding the Flying of the National Flag, the flag must never:
    • Be allowed to touch the ground or floor.
    • Be draped over tables, lecterns, podiums, platforms or railings.
    • Be used to cover a statue, monument, plaque, etc at unveiling or similar ceremonies.
    • Be manufactured or used as underclothes, bath mats or any similar demeaning application.
    • Be used for any commercial advertising in a manner that distorts or shows disrespect to the flag.

  • The flag should be hoisted at the start of the working day and lowered again at or before sunset. It should not remain flying at night unless suitably illuminated. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • Use of the flag in artefacts and products is subject to the approval of The Presidency and, in the case of manufactured items, the Department of Trade and Industry.
  • For full information on how to handle and display the flag correctly and on how to draw and colour your own flag check out our SA Flag Guide.

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