Congratulations to South Africa, whose national rugby team defeated England’s this morning in Japan to win the William Webb Ellis trophy, i.e. rugby’s World Cup. A post in celebration, featuring (what else?!) South African symbols.
South Africa has a pretty cool flag, which was adopted in 1994 as symbolic of the new political dispensation in that country. I knew the designer, Frederick Brownell, who sadly died earlier this year. He wrote that: “The unique central design of the flag, which begins as a ‘V’ at the flagpost and comes together in the centre of the flag, extending further, as a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly, can be seen as representing the convergence of diverse elements in South African society.” The colors (black, blue, green, “chilli red,” gold, and silver) have no set meaning, however, since “individual colours can have widely differing meanings for different people” and thus “may be interpreted freely” – although clearly black, gold and green are the colors of the African National Congress, and “chilli red” (halfway between orange and red) can represent the orange and red that have appeared in the Dutch and Dutch-derived flags that have historically flown over the country.
South Africa’s old flag, which waved over the Union, and then the Republic, of South Africa from 1928 to 1994, is almost universally known as the “Apartheid flag” and is not seen flying much these days. In fact, South Africa’s Equality Court recently ruled that public displays fo this flag now amount to hate speech, except for certain cases of “journalistic, academic, and artistic expression.” The flag was the (originally) orange, white and blue flag of the Netherlands, with the central band showing the flags of the three combatants in the Boer War: the United Kingdom, and the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (ZAR, or the Transvaal). These little flags were supposedly arranged in such a way that no flag had precedence over any other, and as you might expect this design was a compromise between the English and Afrikaners, reached after great rancor in 1928. Even those extremists who want their own Afrikaner Volkstaat aren’t likely to fly this flag, since the existence of the Union Jack on it has always annoyed them!
South Africa’s coat of arms underwent a similar transformation in 2000. The current coat of arms features central shield with two red-ochre Khoisan figures greeting each other. Other elements include elephant tusks, ears of wheat, a crossed spear and knobkierie, a protea flower, a secretary bird, and a Khoisan motto meaning “diverse people unite.”
I confess that I like SA’s previous coat of arms better, if only because it’s more properly heraldic. The shield features an amalgamation of symbols representing the four South African colonies that were united and granted dominion status in 1910: the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. But it’s more European than African in form, and since South Africa is now divided into nine provinces, its symbolism is also obsolete.
South Africa’s parliament got its own emblem in the same style as the new coat of arms in 2007. A drum rises out of a protea flower, which is ensigned by a sun and rests on a book. The sun represents healing the divisions of the past and improving the quality of life for South Africans. The drum calls parliament to order, and the book at the bottom represents the constitution, whose initial words “We, the People” are prominently displayed.
The parliamentary emblem replaced one that had been in use since 1964, which featured (I believe) South Africa’s parliamentary mace crossed with its Black Rod mace, between the old coat of arms and the crest. (Needless to say, these maces have been updated too.)
Finally, we have the emblem of the team itself. South Africa’s national rugby team is known as the Springboks, and its logo is a leaping springbok.
The logo appears on most things associated with the team… except for the front left of their jerseys. Like the flag, the coat of arms, and the parliamentary maces, the springbok, to many people, is representative of the old ways. Until 1994 the team was by policy all-white, and the ANC, which took power that year, saw the springbok as symbolic of this. If you’ve seen the movie Invictus (2009), you’ll be familiar with the story of how the sports ministry wanted to replace the rugby team’s springbok with the king protea, South Africa’s national flower, and how Nelson Mandela, in an attempt at reaching out to South Africa’s white population, personally intervened to prevent it. When South Africa won the World Cup at home in 1995, Mandela donned a springbok jersey to present the Webb Ellis trophy to the team captain Francois Pienaar. It was a great moment in post-Apartheid reconciliation.
You’ll notice, though, that the jersey at the time featured a springbok leaping through a wreath of protea flowers.
The Springboks’ jerseys from 1999 also featured a protea in addition to its namesake bovid. (The photograph is from a replica jersey in our possession.) Clearly the team was trying to do its own outreach.
The protea-springbok device was in use as late as 2007.
But the ANC did not give up, and by the World Cup of 2011 it finally prevailed. With Mandela out of the picture, the party could finally force the team to decorate the fronts of its jerseys with the protea alone, although you’ll notice a small springbok on the left sleeve.
The team’s jerseys for this year’s tournament follow the same pattern – protea device on the front left of the jersey, springbok on the left sleeve.
Although for the Rugby Championship this year the springbok was on the front of the jersey, along with the protea (and a shirt sponsorship – can’t let any revenue escape!). As you can also see, the team is racially integrated these days – the photo is of Herschel Jantjies, a coloured scrum-half from Stellenbosch, who was one of ten non-whites on the thirty-one man World Cup squad.
It’s nice that the springbok has not been entirely effaced. But whatever the symbol, there’s no arguing with success. Congratulations, South Africa!