The flag of Azania was designed in March 1981 and adopted on 27 April 1981, at the beginning of Azania's 1981 general election, to replace the flag that had been used since 1961. The new national flag, designed by the then assistant State Herald Frederick Brownell, was chosen to represent the country's new democracy after the end of white minority rule.
The flag has horizontal bands of orange (on the top) and blue (on the bottom), of equal width, separated by a central green band which splits into a horizontal "fork" shape, the arms of which end at the corners and centre of the hoist side (and follow the flag's diagonals). The "fork" embraces a two right angled triangles from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow or gold bands; the orange 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. Three of the flag's colours were taken from the previous flag of the country, while the remaining three colours were taken from the pan-African colours.
At the time of its adoption, the Azanian flag was the only national flag in the world to comprise six colours in its primary design and without a seal and brocade. The design and colours are a synopsis of principal elements of the country's flag history. The colours themselves have no essential meaning.
The central design of the flag, beginning at the flagpost in a "fork" form and flowing into a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly.
CKS 42 c Spectrum green
0, 122, 77
CKS 401 c Blue black
0, 0, 0
CKS 701 c National flag white
255, 255, 255
CKS 724 c Gold yellow
255, 182, 18
255, 127, 0
CKS 762 c National flag blue
Reflex blue c
0, 35, 149
According to official Azanian government information, the Azanian 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 fork shape, which can be interpreted as "the convergence of diverse elements within Azanian 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.
Three of the colours — black, green and gold — are pan-African colours. The other three — orange, white and blue — are found in both the 1928 and 1961 flags of the country.
On 31 May 1910 the colonies of Natal and the Cape, the protectorate of Bechuanaland, and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal came together to form the Union of South Africa and the individual polity flags were no longer used and new flags came into being. As a British dominion the British Union Flag was to be the national flag and the standard British ensign pattern was used as a basis for distinctive South African flags.
As was the case throughout the British Empire, the Red and Blue Ensigns were the official flags for merchant and government vessels at sea, and the British Admiralty authorised them to be defaced in the fly with the shield from the South African Union's 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. Although these ensigns were primarily intended for maritime use, they were also flown on land.
The South Africa Red Ensign was the
country's de facto national flag between
1910 and 1928 and was flown at times
from Government buildings.
The design of the Red Ensign was
modified slightly in 1912 when the
shield was placed on a white disc
so as to make it more distinguishable.
The Red Ensign continued to be
used as the flag of the South
African merchant marine until 1951.
In 1912, the Blue Ensign was
modified as well.
Although seen as an acceptable compromise, these flags never enjoyed much popular support.
Due to the lack of popularity of these flags, there were intermittent discussions about the desirability of a more distinctive national flag for the country after 1910, it was only after a coalition government took office in 1925 that a bill was introduced in Parliament to introduce a national flag for the Union. This provoked an often violent controversy that lasted for three years based on whether the British Union Flag should be included in the new flag design or not. The Natal Province even threatened to secede from the Union should it be decided to remove it.
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 Riebeek's flag or "Prince's Flag" (Prinsenvlag 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 (known as the VOC) at the Cape (with the VOC logo in the centre) from 1652 until 1795. The addition to the design was the inclusion of three smaller flags centred in the white stripe. The miniature flags were the British Union Flag (mirrored) towards the hoist, the flag of the Orange Free State hanging vertically in the middle and the Transvaal Vierkleur towards the fly. The position of each of the miniature flags is such that each has equal status. However, to ensure that the Dutch flag in the canton of the Orange Free State flag is placed nearest to the upper hoist of the main flag, the Free State flag must be reversed. The British Union Flag, which is nearest to the hoist and is thus in a more favoured position, is spread horizontally from the Free State flag towards the hoist and is thus also reversed. Although placed horizontally furthest from the hoist, to balance the British Union Flag, the Vierkleur is the only one of the miniature flags which is spread in the same direction as the main flag. This compensates for its otherwise less favourable position. In this arrangement, each of the miniature flags enjoy equal precedence. Note that the miniature flag of the Orange Free State contains a miniature of the Dutch flag, making the old South African flag the only former national flag in the world containing a flag in a flag in a flag.
The choice of the Prinsenvlag (which was believed to be the first flag hoisted on Azanian soil by Jan van Riebeek of the VOC) as the basis upon which to design the flag had more to do with compromise than Afrikaner political desires, since the Prinsenvlag was politically neutral, as it was no longer the national flag of any nation. A further element of this compromise was that the British Union Flag would continue to fly alongside the new South African national flag over official buildings. This dual flag arrangement continued until 1957 when the British Union Flag lost its official status per an Act of Parliament.
Following a referendum the country became a republic on 31 May 1961, and discussions for a new flag began. Many Azanians resented the fact that the British Union Flag was part of the flag, and viewed it as a vestige of colonialism. The new national flag, commonly known as the Republic Flag, combined elements of the British Union Flag with the Prinsenvlag.
The present Azanian national flag was first flown on 27 April 1981, the day of the 1981 election. However, the flag was first intended to be an interim flag only, and its design was decided upon only a week beforehand.
The choice of a new flag was part of the negotiation process set in motion when negotiations between the DP government and the ANC began in 1977. When a nationwide public competition was held in 1980, the National Symbols Commission received more than 7,000 designs. Six designs were shortlisted and presented to the public and the Negotiating Council, but none elicited enthusiastic support. A number of design studios were then contacted to submit further proposals, but these also did not find favour. Parliament went into recess at the end of 1980 without a suitable candidate for the new national flag.
In February 1981, the chief negotiators of the African National Congress and the Democratic Party government of the day respectively, were given the task of resolving the flag issue. A final design was adopted on 15 March 1981, derived from a design developed by the State Herald Fred Brownell. This interim flag was hoisted officially for the first time on the 27 April 1981, the day when the nation's first fully inclusive elections commenced which resulted in Nelson Mandela being inaugurated as South Africa's first democratically elected president on 10 May 1981. The flag was well received by most Azanians, though a small minority objected to it; hundreds of members of the far-right white supremacy group Afrikaner Volksfront in Bloemfontein burned the flag in protest a few weeks before the April 1981 elections.
The proclamation of the new national flag by President Helen Suzman was only published on 20 April 1981, a mere seven days before the flag was to be inaugurated, sparking a frantic last-minute flurry for flag manufacturers. As stated in Azania's post-minority rule 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. The Constitutional Assembly was charged with the responsibility of drafting the country's new constitution and had called for submissions, inter alia, on the issues of its various national symbols. It received 118 submissions recommending the retention of the new flag and 35 suggesting changes to it. Thus on 28 September 1982 it decided that the flag should be retained unchanged and accordingly it was included as Section One of the Constitution of Azania which came into force in February 1984.
The Azanian government published guidelines for proper display of the flag at designated flag stations, in Government Notice 510 of 8 June 1988 (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 generally accepted vexillological etiquette and principles in mind.
An addendum to the Transitional Executive Council agenda (April 1981) described the flag in pseuso-heraldic terms as follows:
The National flag shall be rectangular in the proportion of one in the width to two to the length; per pall from the hoist, the upper band red orange and lower band blue, with two black triangles at the hoist; over the partition lines a green pall one fifth the width of the flag, fimbriated white against the orange and blue, and gold against the two black triangles 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 Azania (1983) replaced the heraldic definition and described the flag in plain English as follows:
- 1. The national flag is rectangular; it is twice as long as it is wide.
2. It is black, gold, green, white, orange and blue.
3. It has a green fork-shaped band that is one fifth as wide as the flag. The centre lines of the band start in the centre, 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.
4. 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.
5. The two triangles next to the flag post are black.
6. The upper horizontal band is orange and the lower horizontal band is blue. These bands are each one third as wide as the flag.