National Coat of Arms

The role of a Coat of Arms

A national Coat of Arms, or state emblem, is the highest visual symbol of the State.

The Coat of Arms is also a central part of the Great Seal, traditionally considered to be the highest emblem of the State. Absolute authority is given to every document with an impression of the Great Seal on it, as this means that it has been approved by the President of South Africa.

South Africa’s Coat of Arms was launched on Freedom Day, 27 April 2000. The change reflected government's aim to highlight the democratic change in South Africa and a new sense of patriotism.

The design of the Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms is a series of elements organised in distinct symmetric egg-like or oval shapes placed on top of one another.

The lower oval shape represents the elements of foundation

The first element is the motto, in a green semicircle. Completing the semicircle are two symmetrically placed pairs of elephant tusks pointing upwards. Within the oval shape formed by the tusks are two symmetrical ears of wheat, that in turn frame a centrally placed gold shield.

The shape of the shield makes reference to the drum, and contains two human figures from Khoisan rock art. The figures are depicted facing one another in greeting and in unity.

Above the shield are a spear and a knobkierie, crossed in a single unit. These elements are arranged harmoniously to give focus to the shield and complete the lower oval shape of foundation.

The oval shape of ascendance

Immediately above the oval shape of foundation, is the visual centre of the Coat of Arms, a protea. The petals of the protea are rendered in a triangular pattern reminiscent of the crafts of Africa.

The secretary bird is placed above the protea and the flower forms the chest of the bird. The secretary bird stands with its wings uplifted in a regal and uprising gesture. The distinctive head feathers of the secretary bird crown a strong and vigilant head.
The rising sun above the horizon is placed between the wings of the secretary bird and completes the oval shape of ascendance.

The combination of the upper and lower oval shapes intersect to form an unbroken infinite course, and the great harmony between the basic elements result in a dynamic, elegant and thoroughly distinctive design. Yet it clearly retains the stability, gravity and immediacy that a Coat of Arms demands.

The symbols of the Coat of Arms

The oval shape of foundation

  • The motto
    The motto is: !ke e: /xarra //ke, written in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, literally meaningdiverse people unite. It addresses each individual effort to harness the unity between thought and action. On a collective scale it calls for the nation to unite in a common sense of belonging and national pride - unity in diversity.
    Pronunciation of !ke e: /xarra //ke:

.wav file (170KB)

  • The ears of wheat
    An emblem of fertility, it also symbolises the idea of germination, growth and the feasible development of any potential. It relates to the nourishment of the people and signifies the agricultural aspects of the Earth.
  • Elephant tusks
    Elephants symbolise wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.
  • The shield
    It has a dual function as a vehicle for the display of identity and of spiritual defence. It contains the primary symbol of our nation.
  • The human figures
    The figures are derived from images on the Linton stone, a world-famous example of South African rock art, now housed and displayed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. The Khoisan, the oldest known inhabitants of our land and most probably of the Earth, testify to our common humanity and heritage as South Africans and as humanity in general. The figures are depicted in an attitude of greeting, symbolising unity. This also represents the beginning of the individual’s transformation into the greater sense of belonging to the nation and by extension, collective humanity.
  • The spear and knobkierie
    Dual symbols of defence and authority, they in turn represent the powerful legs of the secretary bird. The spear and knobkierie are lying down, symbolising peace.

The oval shape of ascendance

  • The protea
    The protea is an emblem of the beauty of our land and the flowering of our potential as a nation in pursuit of the African Renaissance. The protea symbolises the holistic integration of forces that grow from the Earth and are nurtured from above. The most popular colours of Africa have been assigned to the protea – green, gold, red and black.
  • The secretary bird
    The secretary bird is characterised in flight, the natural consequence of growth and speed. It is the equivalent of the lion on Earth. A powerful bird whose legs - depicted as the spear and knobkierie - serve it well in its hunt for snakes, symbolising protection of the nation against its enemies. It is a messenger of the heavens and conducts its grace upon the Earth. In this sense it is a symbol of divine majesty. Its uplifted wings are an emblem of the ascendance of our nation, while simultaneously offering us its protection. It is depicted in gold, which clearly symbolises its association with the sun and the highest power.
  • The rising sun
    An emblem of brightness, splendour and the supreme principle of the nature of energy, it symbolises the promise of rebirth, the active faculties of reflection, knowledge, good judgement and willpower. It is the symbol of the source of life, of light and the ultimate wholeness of humanity.

    The completed structure of the Coat of Arms combines the lower and higher oval shape in a symbol of infinity. The path that connects the lower edge of the scroll, through the lines of the tusks, with the horizon above and the sun rising at the top, forms the shape of the cosmic egg from which the secretary bird rises. In the symbolic sense, this is the implied rebirth of the spirit of our great and heroic nation.

The design process

The then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology requested ideas for the new Coat of Arms from the public last year. Based on the ideas received, along with input from the Cabinet, a brief was written. The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) then approached Design South Africa - an umbrella body representing design agencies across the country - to brief ten of the top designers. Three designers were chosen to present their concepts to the Cabinet. Mr Iaan Bekker's design was chosen for the new Coat of Arms. He is a director of the FCB Group and has designed numerous corporate identities for public and private sector organisations.

The new Coat of Arms enhances Batho Pele

Batho Pele is a Sesotho phrase meaning ‘People First’, committing the public service to serve all the people of South Africa. The Batho Pele values and principles underpin the country’s Coat of Arms. On 1 October 1997, the Public Service embarked on a Batho Pele campaign aimed at improving service delivery, to the public. For this new approach to succeed, some changes need to take place. Public service systems, procedures, attitudes and behaviour need to better serve its customers – the public.

Batho Pele is a commitment to values and principles:

  • Regular consultation with customers about the quality of services provided
  • Setting service standards specifying the quality of services that customers can expect
  • Increasing access to services especially to those disadvantaged by racial, gender, geographical, social, cultural, physical, communication, and attitude-related barriers
  • Ensuring higher levels of courtesy by specifying and adhering to set standards for the treatment of customers
  • Providing more and better information about services so that customers have full, accurate, relevant and up-to-date information about the services they are entitled to receive
  • Increasing openness and transparency about how services are delivered, the resources they use and who is in charge
  • Remedying failures and mistakes so that when problems occur, there is a positive response and resolution to the problem
  • Giving the best possible value for money so that customers feel their contribution to the State through taxation, is used effectively and efficiently and savings are ploughed back to further improve service delivery.

Batho Pele is about eliminating wasteful and expensive internal systems that were not designed to put the needs of the people first. It is also about making sure that the Public Service’s financial planning is in line with the public’s needs and priorities.

Most of the improvements that the public would like to see cost nothing, such as: a smile, treating customers with respect, being honest when providing information and apologising if things go wrong. These are not a matter of additional resources - they are a matter of adopting different standards of behaviour.

Improving service delivery is about re-aligning everything we do to ‘customer service’ principles. The implementation of Batho Pele is not a once-off task. It is a continuous, dynamic process, that will go on for many years, gathering momentum all the time.

We need to work jointly, as the Government and the public, to make the principles of Batho Pele a reality for a nation at work for a better life. (Speech by President Thabo Mbeki at the launch of the Coat of Arms, at Kwaggafontein, Bloemfontein, on 27 April 2000)

Compiled by: Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), April 2000

Share this page