Destinations / Miscellaneous

South Africa’s national symbols – a guide for dummies

Updated Monday, 28 January 2019

I’m prepared to bet the average person knows our national flag, our national flower (king protea), and probably our national bird (blue crane). But when it comes to national symbols like the Order of the Baobab, the Order of Luthuli or even our national fish (the galjoen) some of us need a little help …

South Africa's national Bird - The Blue Crane

South Africa national symbols – a guide for dummies

South Africa’s coat of arms

If you have a new(ish) South African passport (and they need renewing every 10 years so you will have, sooner rather than later) you’ll see our new coat of arms (official since 2000) on the cover. Our old one was little more than a copy of the UK coat of arms (unsurprisingly granted by King George V in 1910). The new one is rather lovely, particularly when you start going into the symbolism:

  • the writing at the bottom in a curve is our motto written in Khoisan language fo the |Xam people and means ‘diverse people unite’
  • this evolves into two elephant tusks on either side symbolising wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity
  • within the oval created by the tusks are two ears of wheat – symbols of fertility
  • held by the wheat is a gold shield with two human figures from a famous piece of Khoisan rock art known as the Linton panel – they face one another in greeting and unity
  • above them are a spear and knobkierie lying down to represent peace
  • above this is a stylised protea
  • above the protea a secretary bird is poised in flight, the protea forming its chest and lower body, which also looks like a diamond (one of the country’s rich natural resources), its legs the spear and knobkierie – uplifted wings show the ascendance of South Africa, but they also protect
  • the rising sun symbolises the promise of rebirth; the symbol of life, light and wholeness

South Africa’s national flag

adopted in 1994 and first flown on the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, the design of the V flowing into a single horizontal line is said to represent the diverse elements of our society heading towards unity.

The South African Flag

South Africa’s national animal

the springbok or Antidorcas marsupialis, hence our rugby team’s nickname – ‘the boks’ or ‘die bokke’. The buck is called such because of its  ability to leap, or spring into the air.

South Africa’s national bird

the blue crane or Anthropoides paradisia, chosen as such because it is found almost entirely in South Africa. They’re ‘vulnerable’ on the Red List as there are only some 25 000 birds left, whilst they are protected in the Overberg and encouraged on farms.

South Africa’s national flower

the king protea or Protea cynaroides, looks something like an artichoke and is the largest of all the proteas, which are part of the Cape Floral Region, a biodiversity hotspot.

South Africa’s national fish

the galjoen or Dichistius capensis, more commonly known as the black bream. It is only found along the coast of South Africa from Namibia to Durban.

South Africa’s national tree

the real yellowwood or Podocarpus latifolius, an ancient tree found across the country.

The Springbok

National Orders

are awarded by the president to citizens and foreign nationals. Anyone can be nominated, they don’t have to be famous. They have only to have performed some act of bravery, or have served the country in some exceptional way. Nominations are considered by the National Orders Advisory Council.

  • The Order of Mapungubwe – for citizens whose achievements have impacted internationally and served the interests of South Africa.
  • The Order of the Baobab – for exceptional service in business and the economy; science, medicine, technological innovation and community service.
  • The Order of Luthuli – for meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice, peace and conflict resolution.
  • The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo – for heads of state and senior diplomats of other countries who show friendship towards South Africa.
  • The Order of Mendi for Bravery – for South Africans who have been extraordinarily brave, who have placed their lives in danger, or have lost their lives, whilst trying to save the life of another, or saving property, both in and outside South Africa.
  • The Order of Ikhamanga – for South Africans who have excelled in the arts, culture, literature, music, journalism or sports arenas.


Our National Flower, the Protea

South Africa’s national anthem

manages to combine two anthems,  and five languages:

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

South African Info: