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South Africa (1928-1994)

Suid-Afrika

Last modified: 2003-09-27 by bruce berry
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[Old flag of South Africa] by Mark Sensen


See also:

Flag of 1928-1994

I like the former South African  flag (1928-1994) and this year while I was living in Windhoek I visited several places in South Africa looking for places were this flag might be flying. Fortunately I found two places:
firstly outside the Good Hope Castle in Cape Town. Outside the castle one can see the six flags representing the different periods of the castle flying:
  • Prinzenvlag
  • United Kingdom of England and Scotland
  • Statenvlag (Batavia Republic)
  • Union Jack
  • South Africa (1928-1994)
  • South Africa (1994-)
Also at the Voortrekker Monument (in Pretoria). At the entrance to the Monument there are two flag poles. On one of them flies the current flag South Africa and on the other there is one of the five "Boer" flags hoisted dialy in rotation:
  • Prinzenvlag
  • Transvaal Republic
  • Oranje Vrijstaat
  • Natalia
  • South Africa (1928-1994)
Santiago Tazón, 7 Oct 1999

Santiago is quite correct.  A picture of the flags at the Castle in Cape Town was used on the XVII International Congress of Vexillology programme in 1997 and is also on the cover of the Congress Proceedings (which are currently available). The Transvaal "vierkleur" is also found flying at the Paul Kruger Museum in Pretoria and at the home of the late founder of the Boerestaat Party in Randburg.  A replica of the South African red ensign is also hanging outside (not actually flying) at the Military History Museum in Johannesburg.
Bruce Berry, 8 Oct 1999

What are the colour specifications of the former (1928-1994) South African flag in (BS) RGB values?
NB: Blue was BCC 150 Lapis Lazuli in the British Colour Council's "Dictionary of Color Standards".
Mark Sensen, 15 Jun 2002

The only colour specifications I could find for the old SA flag in the old British Standard Colour Classifications are:

  • Orange: BBC 57
  • Blue:  BBC 218
  • Green: BBC 24
  • Red:  BBC 210
Bruce Berry, 3 Jul 2002

The South African Flag Controversy

The Afrikaners - Boere; Voortrekkers; or South African Dutch (according to the English) -  in spite of being a mixture of Dutch, French, German and quite a few other nationalities, including Khoi, cherished their Dutch connections for most of the nineteenth century during their increasingly bitter struggles against British imperialism. There is still in Afrikaans today a saying: "Die Kaap is weer Hollands" ("The Cape is Dutch again") meaning everything is all right again. This came about when the Cape was returned to the Batavian Republic at the Peace of Amiens in 1803. Three years later the British were back again for the next 160 years. After the turmoil of the Great Trek when the Voortrekkers left the Cape Colony for the interior, they  established the Republic of Natalia and not surprisingly chose the red, white and blue of the old Dutch "Driekleur", but with the white an inverted pile, as their flag. This republic did not last long as in 1843 it was annexed by the British who could not stand the thought of British subjects simply trekking away from their allegiance, however unwilling, to the crown.

In the 1850's the British suffered a bout of anti-colonialism and abandoned the countries to the north of the Orange River to their fate.  In 1854, the Boere in the Trans-Oranje, established the Republic of the Orange Free State (Oranje Vrijstaat). On the day of independence they hoisted the Driekleur for lack of their own flag.  This flag they called the Bataafsche Vlag in memory of the Batavian Republic, they having of course no experience with the Dutch Kingdom established in 1816.  The first president, Josias Hoffman, then wrote to a friend of the Voortrekkers in Holland asking him to approach King Willem III for the grant of a flag and a coat of arms for the new republic.  This must be a unique event in the history of both vexillology and heraldry - a republic asking a monarch to grant a flag and arms?  The upshot of all this was the old Orange Free State flag with the Driekleur in the canton and the three orange and four white bars.

The Transvalers took a while longer to find unity and establish an organised state, but in 1856 they finally adopted a constitution and a flag. The committee who decided on the design of the Transvaal Vierkleur (four colour) was advised by the Reverend Dirk van der Hoff, his brother Marthinus and Jacobus Stuart, all born Hollanders. The result was the Driekleur with a vertical green bar added along the hoist. The continued attachment of the Boere to the old Driekleur and their Dutch heritage comes out clearly in the flag designs which they adopted for these three republics.

After the Anglo Boer South African War (1899-1902) and the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the British Union Jack became the national flag of the united South Africa. The Red and Blue ensigns with the Union coat of arms in the fly, were granted by British Admiralty warrants in 1910 (amended in 1912) for use at sea as was the case all over the British Empire. They were not intended as national flags for the Union although some people used them as such (especially the Red Ensign).  It was only in 1925, after the first post-Union Afrikaner government took office, that a Bill was introduced in parliament to make provision for a national flag for the Union of South Africa. This action immediately led to some three years of civil strife and near civil war. The British thought that the Boere wanted to do away with their cherished Imperial symbols. The province of Natal even threatened to secede from the Union. A compromise was finally reached which resulted in the adoption of a flag for the Union late in 1927 and which was first hoisted on 31 May 1928. This was based on the so-called Van Riebeeck flag, which was in reality the old Princevlag, of orange, white and blue horizontalstripes with three smaller flags centred in the white stripe.  These 'flaglets' were the British Union Jack towards the hoist, the Orange Free State Vierkleur hanging vertically and the Transvaal Vierkleur towards the fly. The choice of the Princevlag as the basis of the new flag had more to do with finding an acceptable compromise (the Prinzenvlag supposedly being the first flag hoisted on South African soil - although this is not at all certain - and being a neutral design as it was no longer a current national flag) than having anything to do with Afrikaner political desires. A further part of the compromise was that the British Union Jack would continue to fly alongside the Union national flag everywhere over official buildings. South Africa was thus the only country in the world as far as I am aware, that flew two national flags simultaneously!  This situation continued until 1957 when the Union Jack was finally dispensed with by an Act of Parlaiment.

Sources: "The South African Flag Controversy" by Henry Saker, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, 1980;
"Die Vlae van Suid-Afrika" by Dr C. Pama, Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town, 1984;
"SAVA Journal SJ: 4/95: The History of Flags of South Africa before 1900".
Andre Burgers, 18 Jan 2001

Although it was taken into use in 1928, the parliamentary debate on the orange-white-blue flag took place in 1927, so it is frequently referred to as the flag of 1927.  Looking at your page on flag proposals, I notice that one particularly insulting nickname of the House of Assembly’s proposal – the one which stuck – is not mentioned.
The National Party, which had a slender majority and was in government, was not able to prevent this flag design from being approved, but maintained that the shield was no more than a scab which would in due course fall away. The shield flag was for many years known as the “scab flag” – possibly because the only people who referred to it in public were the radical Nationalists (especially Dr D F Malan’s Gesuiwerde Nasionale Party which abandoned the coalition government of 1934).
Dr Malan’s preference was for the Princenvlag, so for him the “scab” (the quartered shield) was totally unacceptable. Yet his party (the Herenigde Nasionale Party which won the 1948 general election) quite happily accepted the 1928 flag (despite the presence of the Union Jack), and eventually abandoned its intention of returning to the Princenvlag.
Mike Oettle, 24 May 2002

I remember reading somewhere that somewhere around the years 1969-1971 a proposal was made for replacing the "1928" flag with the Princenvlag. Does anyone know more details about this? Was it an official proposal and/or was it taken in consideration seriously?
Mark Sensen, 24 May 2002

On 28 September 1968 the then ruling National Party announced a commission under the chairmanship of Mr Justice JF Marais to look into the matter of a new flag for South Africa and that any new design should be hoisted on Republic Day (31 May) in 1971 - the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the the republic. However, Mr John Vorster, the then Prime Minister of South Africa, decided later that new flags and symbols were not necessary and that it would be "petty politics" to interfere in the matter and accordingly, no further attempt was made to change the then national symbols of the country until the advent of democracy in 1994.
As most vexillologists are aware, the previous South African flag was born following a fierce debate and was in essence a compromise symbol between the English and Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans following the Anglo-Boer South African War of 1899-1902. There were numerous attempts to change the flag, particularly from Afrikaners who detested the "Union Jack" being part of the flag.
The former Prime Minister (and architect of apartheid) Dr Verwoerd had a dream to hoist a "clean" flag over South Africa in the 1960s. The proposed design comprised three vertical stripes of blue, white and orange (Princenvlag colours) with a leaping springbok over a wreath of six proteas in the centre. This flag was designed by Mr HC Blatt, then assistant secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister had already approved this design but his assassination in 1966 left the matter in abeyance until the National Party meeting in 1968, as referred to above. The successor to Dr Verwoerd, Mr John Vorster, raised the flag issue at a news conference on 30 March 1971 and said in the light of the impending elections and 10th anniversary Republic Day celebrations, he preferred "to keep the affair in the background". This he said was done because he did not want the flag question to degenerate into a political football (perhaps reflecting on the 1920s experience) and that the matter would be considered again when circumstances would be "more normal".
"I only want to warn, and express the hope, that no person should drag politics in any form into this matter because the flag must, at all times, be raised above party politics in South Africa" he said.
Verwoerd's dream for a new South African flag, with black and white illustration, is published in SAVA Newsletter 3/92 (July 1992) and is based on an article published in the Afrikaans newspaper, Rapport, on 15 December 1991.
Bruce Berry, 31 May 2002


Upside-down Union Flag ?

The UK flag within the Old South African one is upside down. Is that the way it is supposed to be?
R Nathan Bliss, 6 March 1998

This is my understanding and feel free to correct me:
It isn't upside down; it is being seen from the back! This was an elaborate trick to keep any one of the three flags from having "precedence" - the British flag as portrayed on the old RSA flag as at the honour point (left); but since you are seeing the reverse, from the "proper" perspective the UJ is really on the left.
Joshua Fruhlinger, 9 March 1998


World War II

I was wondering what flag South African army forces would have been flying during World War II alongside the British? Can you help me out?
Tristan Noone, 13 Jun 2001

South African forces in East Africa flew their own national flag. In a July 1941 letter to the Colonial Office about the use of British flags in the territory, the Governor of Tanganyika referred to the Union Jack, adding that "I do not use the expression out of ignorance but since the wartime eruption of Union troops in East Africa the term Union Flag is usually associated with the Vierkleur."
The formation badges were yellow and green.  That of the 1st South African Division (raised in Kenya in 1940, then  Somaliland, Abyssinia and North Africa) was a diamond divided in half horizontally, yellow over green, later a rectangle yellow over green on which was superimposed a black wildebeest. The 2nd South African Division in North Africa was a circle divided yellow over green while the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy was a yellow triangle with a green border.
David Prothero, 15 Jun 2001

It is quite correctly stated that the Union Flag of 1927 was used by SA forces. My father, who served in the Second World War, assured me that the Union Jack was hardly to be seen at SA military installations. Ironically, since my Dad served (in 1944-45, in the 6th SA Armoured Division in Italy) in a Natal infantry regiment (previously he had been in the SA Corps of Engineers and the SA Tank Corps, and was not himself from Natal) there was one exception to this:
Natal Command (army regional headquarters) in Durban, from 1927 to 1961, always flew the Union Jack and the Union Flag side by side. The Natal Provincial Administration also flew the two flags together, as did most Natal local governments (the corporations of Durban and Pietermaritzburg and the boroughs of the other towns).
The reason for this was that Natal was far more closely attached to the British Crown than the other provinces of the Union, and was fiercely loyal to the British connection. The deviation at Natal Command was tolerated for this reason.
The only military bases elsewhere in the Union where the Union Jack was flown were the Royal Navy installations on the Cape coast and the Joint Flying Schools, which were run by both the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. At these, naturally, the White Ensign and the Air Force Ensign respectively were also in evidence.
Mike Oettle, 8 Dec 2001


Retention of the 1912 Red Ensign

The 1912 Red Ensign was retained as South Africa's merchant flag until 1951.
Mike Oettle, 10 May 2003
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