click for high resolution picture





The arms of Parliament

Order of Mapungubwe


Back to RSA Register



WHEN THE UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA WAS ESTABLISHED ON 31 MAY 1910 AN official coat of arms became an immediate necessity. It was designed by Arthur Holland of the Government Printing Works in Pretoria. After a number of amendments it was accepted by the government and granted by royal warrant of 17 September 1910. In a quartered shield appear the chief symbols of the arms of each province: the Lady of Good Hope, two wildebeest, an orange tree, and an ox-wagon. A wavy division of the shield per fess represents the Orange River flowing through the country. As crest was chosen a lion passant guardant, holding  four bound staves representing the unity of the four provinces. This unity is also expressed in the motto ex unitate vires, a Latin translation of the Transvaal motto eendragt maakt magt. A springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis - Bovidæ) from the arms of the Orange River Colony was chosen as the dexter supporter to face an oryx (Oryx gazella - Bovidæ) on the sinister side. [1]


In the achievement the crest was placed directly on the shield and the supporters stood on a simple ribbon as nor a helmet nor a compartment were mentioned in the grant.



Achievement of the Governor General of South Africa.

Showing the achievement adopted 17 September 1910, surrounded by branches of mimosa.[2]



Quarterly per fesse wavy First Quarter Gules a female figure representing Hope resting the dexter arm upon a rock and supporting with the sinister hand an Anchor Argent Second Quarter Or two Wildebeesten in full course at random both proper Third Quarter Or upon an Island an Orange tree Vert fructed proper Fourth Quarter Vert a Trek Waggon Argent And for the Crest On a Wreath of the Colours A Lion passant gardant Gules supporting with the dexter paw four staves erect alternately Argent and Azure and banded Or And for the Supporters, On the dexter side A Spring Buck and on the sinister side An Oryx (Gemsbuck) both proper together with the Motto EX UNITATE VIRES.


The 1910 rendering of the Union arms remained in use till 1930


In 1930 the College of Arms in London granted new arms. In these arms the supporters were placed on a small grassy hill. Again no helmet was granted.



The Achievement of 1930.

A much more satisfactory drawing by Kruger Gray was recorded by the College of Arms on 21 September 1932. This version was generally accepted and came into use in 1933.



Achievement of South Africa

 as by Royal Warrant of  21 September 1932 and drawn by Kruger Gray. 



On coins (1923-1960) the smaller arms, in the tradition of the British Royal Arms, were used consisting of the quartered shield with the crown of St. Edward.




When the RSA was established on 31 May 1961 the Union coat of arms was taken over unchanged. [3]

The smaller crowned arms as on coins were abolished with the monarchy and replaced by an uncrowned version.



The uncrowned arms of the Republic of South Africa as on 20c coins 1961-’64.

These arms served in the emblem of Parliament until 2007.



More about the achievements of the Union and the Republic.


The Achievement of 2000


On 27 April 2000 a new achievement for the Republic of South Africa was adopted.
It can be blasoned as follows:


Arms: Or, two Khoisan human figures proper.

Crest: A knobkierie and a spear in saltire, a protea flower, a secretary bird issuant, wings expanded, and a rising sun.

Garland: Two ears of wheat and four elephant tusks.

Motto: !ke e: /xarra //ke, (Unity in Diversity) 


ð See illustration in the head of this essay.


The symbolism of the new Coat of Arms  [4]


The lower part of the achievement contains the fundaments of Society:


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 shield has the shape of a 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 placed a spear and a knobkierie, crossed in a single unit. These elements are arranged so to give focus to the shield and complete the lower part of the achievement.


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 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 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 Motto

The motto is: !ke e: /xarra //ke, written in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, literally meaning: diverse 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.


= The  Republic has this motto in common with the United States of America: E PLURIBUS UNUM, and Indonesia: BHINNEKA TUNGGAL IKA 


The upper part of the achievement contains the elements of Ascendance:


Immediately above the fundaments is the visual centre of the achievement, 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 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 grows 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, symbolises 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, whilst 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 will power. It is the symbol of the source of life, of light and the ultimate wholeness of Humanity.



Evaluation of the Achievement

The combination of the upper and lower parts forms 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 achievement combines its lower and higher parts 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 which the sun rises at the top, has the shape of the cosmic egg from which the secretary bird rises. In the symbolic sense this implies the  rebirth of the spirit of our great and heroic nation.




The Arms of Parliament


Emblem of Parliament, 1964  [5]


In 2005 preparations were made to establish a new emblem for Parliament - an emblem that would span nine provinces and could be understood in all languages. The old emblem dated back to 1964 and represented the Westminster tradition, with a shield representing the four colonies from which South Africa was composed at the beginning of the twentieth century. This emblem also included the old South African Coat of Arms.

The new emblem, designed by a team of twenty designers in 2006, was adopted by Parliament on 27 march 2007. A simplified blazoning could be:


Arms: A drum.

Crest: A rising sun

Supporters: Six protea leaves


Compartment: An open book


The meaning of these elements is as follows:


The drum symbolizes parliament

The drum calls the people’s Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, together to consider national and provincial issues, thereby ensuring government by the people under the Constitution. The drum is a common African symbol of power for example in Uganda and Rwanda


The sun symbolizes South Africa

The sun heals the divisions of the past, improves the quality of life of all South Africans, frees the potential of each person and builds a united and democratic South Africa to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. The rising sun is a common symbol of the rising hope for a better future. 

The Protea leaves symbolize the people  

The people of South Africa, building on the foundation of a democratic and open society, freely elect representatives to act as the voice of the people in a national forum for the public consideration of issues. The protea leaves (Protea cynaroides - Protaeacea) are an ancient symbol for South Africa introduced on 3d and 6d coins in the time of the Union (1925-1960).

The adoption of floral symbols was common for British dominions in the time of the British Empire.  [6]


The motto symbolizes the sovereignty.

Parliament is the voice of the sovereign people of the Republic of South Africa. The words are the beginning of the preamble of the Constitution of 1996 which reads:


We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme

law of the Republic so as to-

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social

justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on

the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the qualiiy of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightfill place as a sovereign

state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people. [7]


The book symbolizes the Constitution

The Constitution of South Africa lays the foundation for a democratic and open society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. It is the supreme law of our country and ensures government by the people.

With the introduction of this symbol the tradition that the national achievement is an augmentation of the arms of the sovereign and, consequently, illustrates that the state is a function of the sovereign, is abandoned.


The Order of Mapungubwe 


The Mapungubwe golden rhinoceros

Coll. University of Pretoria


The Order of Mapungubwe was established in 2002 by the government of South Africa. The order replaces the older Orde van de Goeie Hoop, de Orde van de Ster van het Zuiden en de Orde van Verdienste. (The Orders of Good Hope, of the Star of the South and of Merit). It is the highest distinction awarded by the R.S.A. and it is granted for International achievements in the interest of South Africa such as in diplomacy.

The order is named after the Mapungubwe kingdom that existed 1000 years ago in northern South Africa.


In the statutes of the order, concepts such as "Knight" and "Grand Cross" are avoided because they look too European.

The order also does not have the usual division into five degrees as is customary in international diplomatic traffic. The degrees are:


Platinum: the bearers add the letters OMP after their name after the British example. The degree has until now only been awarded to Nelson Mandela for exceptional merit. Since 2004 this degree has rewarded "exceptional and unique" merit.

Gold: the bearers add the letters OMG after their name after the British example. The degree was awarded until 2004 for excellent merit. Since 2004 this degree has rewarded "exceptional and exceptional" merit.

Silver: the bearers add the letters OMS after their name after the British example. Awarded for excellent performance. This degree no longer exists.

Bronze: the bearers add the letters OMB after their name after the British example. Awarded for exceptional performance.

Jewel of the Order of Mapungubwe


The jewel or gem of the order is made up of the following 7 parts:

  • an oval disc with the Mapungubwe hill in it.
  • 4 points around the oval symbolize the four corners of the world.
  • Above the hill there is a rising sun.
  • The Mapungubwe rhino stands in front of the hill; a gilt statue of a rhinoceros found by archaeologists in the ruins of Mapungubwe.
  • Below the oval disc is an ornamental casting vessel from which melted gold flows.
  • The Mapungubwe scepter; a second artifact found in the ruins flanks the casting vessel on either side.
  • At the bottom, the molten gold runs over a melting furnace, the fire of which symbolizes the purifying and life-sustaining character.


The award is worn on a ribbon around the neck.

The buttonhole decoration consists of only the oval disc, without casting vessel, scepter, gold and oven.

Mapungubwe is mentioned as an example of development on the website of the South African president. [8]



Back to Main Page


© Hubert de Vries, 2009.03.12. Updated 2020-02-03




[1] Pama, C. : Lions and Virgins. Cape Town, 1965. Brownell, F.G.:  National and Provincial symbols. Johannesburg 1993.

[2]  From:  Drawings of the Flags in use at the present time by Various Nations. Admiralty, 1915.

[3]  Pama, C.: Simbole van die Unie. Cape Town; Miller. 1960.  Armoria Patria.

[4]  After the official presentation of the new achievement on the government site National Coat of Arms

[5]  Picture from Pama, op. cit. 1965, fig. 97. Drawing by C. Woltman.

[6] The custom reaches back to ancient times as for example the symbols for Lower- and Upper Egypt and Nubia were a waterlily, papyrus and a lotus respectively.  It should be noted that these floral  emblems symbolized a territory and not a people.

[7] The words “We the People” are also the beginning of the first Constitution of the United States of America (1787). This reads: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.