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National Symbols of South Africa – 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup African host country

The eight National Symbols

South Africa as it is today is a young country of only 18 years – it is an adolescent, if not a new-born, in terms of history.

It was born out of more than 400 years of colonisation and migration, of wars and evangelism, of heroism and defeat. There is bitterness aplenty in the story of this beautiful country, but also grace and forgiveness, acceptance and humanity.

The national symbols of the country reflect its history and point towards the hope of a people united in diversity and enjoying together the fruits of prosperity. It has not come easily to anyone in South Africa, but, as we say “ke nako” , now is the time! The time to show the world who we are and what has made us who we are, in spite of all the troubles and disappointments, we are hosting the greatest show on Earth. And we love it!

South Africa has eight National Symbols – the Anthem, the Flag, the Coat of Arms, the National Animal, the National Bird, the National Fish, the National Flower and the National Tree. I will discuss briefly each of these, starting, of course, as a music lover, with the Anthem.

The vuvuzela: a beautiful noise for the beautiful game! (Photo: GCIS)

The vuvuzela: a beautiful noise for the beautiful game! (Photo: GCIS)

The Anthem

Our Anthem is unique in the world as it is in four languages and comprises two separate compositions which have been brought together into a single unit, which surprisingly, works. It is also a quasi-modal Anthem, ending in a key other than that in which it started.

Back in 1897 a young school teacher in a Methodist mission composed a one-verse song, a petition to God to Bless Africa. It was written in his language, isiXhosa. The young man was Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, who was born in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in around 1873, moved to Johannesburg where he taught at the Nancefield Mission, after having studied there.

The song, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika , was first sung in public, two years after he had composed it, at the ordination of a Methodist minister, the Reverend Boweni. It then began to be popular with choirs on the Witwatersrand and so its fame spread, to the extent that when the forerunner of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Native National Congress, held its first meeting in Bloemfontein in 1912, the song was sung after the closing prayers, and became the official anthem of the ANC in 1925.

In the meantime Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi composed another seven verses for the song, and others added more verses in Sesotho.

Meanwhile the four colonies in South Africa had decided to unify into one country in 1910 (read the story here). In 1918 Afrikaans poet C.J. Langenhoven, who coincidentally was born in 1873, about the same time as Sontonga, wrote a poem called Die Stem (The Voice). This was set to music by Dutch Reformed Church dominee (minister) M.L. De Villiers. (On a personal note, De Villiers was a great friend of my grandfather Andrew McGregor, also a dominee, and my father used to spend a great deal of time with De Villiers when he was a cadet on the South African Training Ship General Botha in 1924 and 1925 as he tells in his memoirs here:

Die Stem officially became the Anthem of the Union of South Africa in 1957, but it had been sung as such unofficially since 1928.

Die Stem was hugely unpopular with most Blacks in South Africa who saw it as a triumphalistic celebration of white domination.

After the first democratic elections in 1994 the first president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in a gesture of reconciliation, decided that the two anthems should be combined into one, and so it came about that we have this unique and beautiful anthem in four languages. It is sung first in isiXhosa, then in seSotho, then in Afrikaans and finally in English. The first two verses use the melody of the hymn composed by Sontonga, and the last two verses use the music of De Villiers. The official words of the Anthem are (with English translations in brackets):

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
(God Bless Africa)
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
(Raise high Her glory)
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
(Hear our Prayers)
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo
(God bless us, we her children)

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
(God protect our nation)
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
(End all wars and tribulations)
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
(Protect us, protect our nation)
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika.
(Our nation South Africa - South Africa)

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
(Ringing out from our blue heavens)
Uit die diepte van ons see,
(From the depth of our seas)
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
(Over our everlasting mountains)
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
(Where the echoing crags resound)

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

I love this Anthem as it talks of peace, of coming together, and not of war and division, not of victory over anyone else.

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Flag adopted as the National Flag in 1994. Image Wikipedia

Flag adopted as the National Flag in 1994. Image Wikipedia

Flag of the Union (later Republic) of South Africa 1910 - 1994. Image Wikipedia

Flag of the Union (later Republic) of South Africa 1910 - 1994. Image Wikipedia

The Flag

The old South African flag was derived from the Dutch flag and had, in the centre white band, a device showing the flags of the former Boer Republics of South Africa and the Orange Free State with the Union Flag of the United Kingdom. This flag became very much associated with apartheid and so had very negative connotations for Blacks in South Africa. With the coming of democracy in 1994 there was clearly a need for a new flag.

The former State Herald of South Africa, Mr Frank Brownell, designed what has become an immensely popular flag, although he initially designed it as an interim flag. It is a vibrant, colourful design, with few elements that can be linked to the previous history of the country and so was largely acceptable to all segments of South African society.

This flag, which was first hoisted at midnight before the 27 April 1994 elections, has become ubiquitous at sports functions, political rallies and cultural events, indicating its wide acceptance by the people.

Coat of Arms of South Adopted in 2000. Image from Wikipedia

Coat of Arms of South Adopted in 2000. Image from Wikipedia

Former Coat of Arms of South Africa, from 1932 to 2000. Image Wikipedia

Former Coat of Arms of South Africa, from 1932 to 2000. Image Wikipedia

The Coat of Arms

This is the supreme symbol of the State of South Africa and appears on official documents as the stamp of authority. The Coat of Arms comprises several elements, each of which has symbolism and meaning.

The motto !ke e: /xarra //ke is written in the language of the /Xam people, a Khoisan group the oldest known people in South Africa. It means “diverse people unite.”

The four elephant tusks are representative of wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.

The ears of wheat which appear within the oval shape formed by the tusks symbolise fertility, growth and the development of potential, the nourishment of people and the agricultural aspects of the Earth.

The central shield is meant to represent both a shield and a drum, symbolising the expression of identity and spiritual defence.

The human figures have been stylised from a Khoisan rock painting known as the Linton Stone which is in the South African Museum in Cape Town.

The spear and the knobkierie represent both defence and authority and also the legs of the secretary bird. They are lying down, symbolising peace.

The protea represents the beauty of South Africa, its natural endowments, and also symbolises the holistic integration of forces that grow from the Earth, nurtured from above.

The secretary bird, shown in flight with extended wings, is symbolic of power and protection.

The rising sun 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.

Springbok jumping. Photo by Magnus Manske via Wikipedia

Springbok jumping. Photo by Magnus Manske via Wikipedia

The National Animal

South Africa's National Animal is the springbok, an antelope with the scientific name Antidorcas marsupialis which has a characteristic “pronk” or jumping display. The springbok also appears on the cap badge of the Royal Canadian Dragoons as a result of the part a herd of springbok played in the defeat by the dragoons of some Boer forces when the buck alerted the Canadian sentries to the presence of the Boer soldiers.

The springbok was for many years the emblem of all South African sporting codes but since 1994 the protea has taken its place except for rugby, which retains the springbok.

Blue Crane. Image from Kenneth Newman: Birds of Southern Africa

Blue Crane. Image from Kenneth Newman: Birds of Southern Africa

The National Bird

South Africa's National Bird is the tall and elegant Blue Crane, Anthropoides paradisia. This lovely bird, found almost everywhere in South Africa, is on the IUCN Red List in the category “Vulnerable”. In spite of being protected and in spite of being a National Symbol, the bird leads a somewhat precarious life, its major threats being commercial forestry which destroys its natural habitat, poisoning and collisions with overhead power cables.

The Blue Crane is especially important to the amaXhosa people who revere it as a symbol of valour. In isiXhosa the Blue Crane is called indwe and its feathers are presented to anyone who has acted in some way meritoriously, in a ceremony known as ukundzabela.

Image: Southern African Wildlife. Reader's Digest, 1989

Image: Southern African Wildlife. Reader's Digest, 1989

The National Fish

South Africa's National Fish is one which is only found in Southern African waters, from the Namibian coast in the west to the coast of kwaZulu-Natal in the east. It is called the galjoen and it feeds on molluscs found in the rocky reefs of the coast. Its scientific name is Dichistius Capensis and the suggestion to make it the National Fish of South Africa was made by Margaret Smith, widow of the great South African Ichthyologist Professor J.L.B. Smith.

Galjoen is the Dutch for “galleon” and it is thought that the fish got this name from the early Dutch settlers who thought that the line of markings along the fish's body looked like the gun ports on galleons.

Image SA Government website

Image SA Government website

The National Flower

South Africa's National Flower is the magnificent King Protea, Protea cynaroides, the largest bloom of the Large Protea family. It is found in the South West regions of the country. It gets the name cynaroides because of its similarity to the artichoke.

Proteas are beautiful in the wild and in flower arrangements where they have for decades been the centrepieces of the South African entries to the annual Chelsea Flower Show. In vases the flowers last a long time and they make excellent dried flowers.

Image from Palmer and Pitm,an: Trees of South Africa (1961)

Image from Palmer and Pitm,an: Trees of South Africa (1961)

The National Tree

In South Africa some of the most sought-after furniture, flooring and other woodwork, is made of yellow wood. So much so that the tree was almost exterminated.

But it is now the National Tree, the Real Yellowwood or Podocarpus latifolius. This is a magnificent tree which in forests can grow up to 40 metres in height. It is a hard wood and makes very handsome wooden articles which fetch high prices due to the relative scarcity.

The yellowwood has been around for about 100 million years in this country.

The vuvuzela

Not quite a National Symbol, but certainly something soccer fans will encounter, loudly, at the matches of the World Cup is the vuvuzela, a staple of soccer crowds in South Africa.

This metre-long plastic trumpet makes a sound like an elephant when blown well, and the sound reverberates around soccer stadiums all over South Africa. It has become the trademark sound of soccer matches in South Africa and soccer fans from around the world will get to know the sound during the World Cup.

The Fifa World Cup tournament starts on 11 June.

Image: Fifa

Image: Fifa

The world's greatest spectacle comes to South Africa

The National Symbols of South Africa reflect the diversity, natural and cultural richness of a country which, in spite of having within its borders the Cradle of Humanity and seven other World Heritage Sites, has long struggled to realise its greatness.

Long divided on racial, cultural, language and religious lines, the people of South Africa are coming together to celebrate the world's greatest spectacle with pride and joy. We welcome the world to this amazing and vibrant country.

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010


drogba on April 01, 2012:

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sidds123450 on October 01, 2011:

A very informative posts, thanks tony..!

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 14, 2010:

chingchang chu - what do you do? -)))

Thanks for stopping by

Love and peace


chingchangchu on October 13, 2010:

ching chang chu whaaat do u do

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on July 22, 2010:

Marlon - thanks for your kind words and for stopping by.

Love and peace


MarlonFulo from Caloocan City on July 18, 2010:

Well written, concise and informative, as if I have been in your country for quite some time. This is a very pleasant hub.

Teresa Schultz from East London, in South Africa on July 17, 2010:

Tried again and this time it said "message sent" - so hope you got it. (It's now 11.15 pm.)

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on July 17, 2010:

Teresa - thanks for stoping by and commenting. Glad my Hub was of use to you. I have not received the email yet (it's 22:15 on Saturday) - maybe you could try again?

Thanks again

Love and peace


Teresa Schultz from East London, in South Africa on July 17, 2010:

You have some great hubs on South Africa and the history of it. I came to this hub in particular as was unsure if the national flower was the protea or the strelitzia! And I say I'm a proud South African? I suck at knowing what's what! :)

ps, couldn't send fan mail for some reason, so sent email, hope you got it, there was nothing to show "this message has been sent."

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 14, 2010:

Fashion - thanks so much for dropping by and commenting! I appreciate it.

Love and peace


FashionFame from California on June 11, 2010:

very informative and interesting hub. Looking forward for more of your writings. Would like to join your fan club and invite you too to stay connected.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 01, 2010:

Debarshi - thank you so much for you very kind words! I really appreciate them. And yes, I'm a cricket fan myself and love watching the Proteas play in India - such a great vibe there. And such great cricketers.

Quinton - well, that remains to be seen, doesn't it? Maybe the host team will surprise everyone!

Thank you both for visiting and commenting. I truly appreciate it.

Love and peace


quinton9cherry on May 31, 2010:

South Korea All the way. We gonna take it babbbyyyyy

Debarshi Dutta from Calcutta on May 31, 2010:

An astounding and informative ! It might well be one of your best hubs and indeed all of them are very good...And we all are looking forward to the world cup...However it is the South African Cricket team I can relate to most...they have visited our country on so many occasions!

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 30, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Betty. I appreciate it.

Love and peace


Betty Reid from Texas on May 28, 2010:

With the World Cup starting soon it's a great time to learn more about South Africa.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 25, 2010:

Hi Lis - thanks for dropping by. Yes I must say thought there are moments when I feel I can't wait until it's all over! But you are so right - we are in a wonderful place and this is going to be a wonderful occasion. And yes, we have come a long, long way!

Love and peace


liswilliams from South Africa on May 25, 2010:

Thanks Tony, can't wait till this starts, what an occasion in the best place possible, wow, we have come such a long way!

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 20, 2010:

Cidna, Cae - thanks for visiting and commenting. Appreciate it very much.

Love and peace


Cae on May 20, 2010:

This is really interesting to read and teaches us more about our country

Cidna on May 20, 2010:

Now I have learned something

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 11, 2010:

WMH - thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I appreciate it very much indeed! And may God bless you and your's also!

Love and peace


Wealthmadehealthy from Somewhere in the Lone Star State on May 11, 2010:

What a wonderful read!! Your anthem is so beautiful and thank you for interpreting it for us all....You live in a wonderful country! I love your flower which resembles the artichoke....Awesome read!! Thanks for sharing it with us all...God Bless you and yours!!

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 11, 2010:

Ictodd - thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words. I appreciate it very much.

Love and peace


Linda Todd from Charleston on May 11, 2010:

This is something that is wonderfully presented. Thank you for sharing South Africia with us. I am sure it is a lovely place and I would love to visit. Thank you again.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 10, 2010:

Story - thanks so much for your comment and kind words. The secretary bird has indeed an eagle-like body, but it has long legs like a crane. It is endemic to Africa, though much threatened in Southern Africa by loss of habitat and other things. It feeds on snakes and small mammals and rodents. It is symbolic of vigilance and protection.

Love and peace


Barbara from Stepping past clutter on May 10, 2010:

TonyMac! I have never heard of a Secretary Bird, but it looks lovely on your shield. Is it similar to the concept of an eagle? I wonder. Also, the song your countrymen composed is inspiring. I love hearing all the languages and I can understand how it moves you. The flag, too, with its bold and colorful graphic design must brighten the darkest corner. How fun to learn all about your country. We are not big soccer fans, but my husband did play fullback on his champion high school team... perhaps if the games are televised we will see more of your country! Thank you for the heads up!

BJBenson from USA on May 05, 2010:

Glad to hear about the music change.

Take care.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 04, 2010:

Gus - thanks for stopping by and commenting. Ireally appreciate it very much and I hope Greece does well in the tournament.

Love and peace


gusripper on May 04, 2010:

This Tournament is special,because my country Greece is taking part.Its the second time in Greek football history we are in the finals of a MONDIAL .But this kind of informations i think they are very special.Thank you mister.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 04, 2010:

Chasingcars - thanks for stopping by and commenting. Your kind words are really appreciated.

Love and peace


chasingcars on May 04, 2010:

Wonderful hub. I am gaining some knowledge about SA from you hubs and appreciate the info. You nation has accomplished so much. Good luck with the World Cup.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 04, 2010:

Thanks to you all - Lori Green tea-cher, BJB, Aine, Bill, Billy, Maudie, DG, Amilar, JayJay, Janny, HPR - your comments are great and much appreciated. Sorry to do a group thank you like this but I've been out all day!

I agree about the singing stars - seems there has been something of a change in this regard as I heard on the news this evening - Hugh Masekela, Soweto Gospel Choir, Freshly Ground and some "surprises" have been booked. So the South African flavour will be enhanced.

Thanks again everyone for commenting. It was fun writing this one.

Anyone wanting a vuvuzela - just let me know! LOL!

Love and peace


H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on May 04, 2010:

The history of building the national anthem is amazing and exemplary to set the unity among people of diverse physical and cultural variety.

JannyC on May 04, 2010:

Well I learned something new! This was enjoyable as well as educational. Your writing also brought a burst of pride in me for Africa. Kudos to you and South Africa!

jayjay40 from Bristol England on May 04, 2010:

Very informative, can't wait for the world cup to begin. Nice to know more about South Africa, thanks

amillar from Scotland, UK on May 04, 2010:

You're a lucky lad living in that part of the World; I expect your country has a great future.

De Greek from UK on May 04, 2010:

Tony, it is really wonderful to see your love of your country come through so many of your hubs and this one is no exception. Really heartwarming :-)

billyaustindillon on May 04, 2010:

Great information about South Africa - I know a little from my Rugby days but you have filled in the rest - well done Tony :)

ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on May 04, 2010:

Ahh, I can't wait to see the patriotism the world cup brings. I agree Shakira may not be the best choice to sing there unless she is very popular there. At the very least, a famous singer from the country, or the continent may be more appropriate.

Aine O'Connor from Dublin on May 04, 2010:

fab feature Tony, really enjoyed it thanks, both in terms of the info about your fledging country and your pride in it. It makes for a lovely read.

missmaudie from Brittany, France on May 04, 2010:

Wow, what great information - I'll definitely look out for some vuvuzela at the football matches (on TV not in person). I'll also be paying closer attention to the very complicated National Anthem! Great stuff :)

BJBenson from USA on May 03, 2010:

This is such a wonderful hub. I really like learning about places I have not been to yet.You write so well. Thank you for all the information. But what's this about a Latin singer singing at the World Cup. I think it should be someone from South Africa.

green tea-cher on May 03, 2010:

Wonderful information about your country. Your national anthem is beautiful. I am so excited for all South Africans. Canada just hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and it brought out the best in Canadians in a way we never experienced before, in terms of hospitality and in good competition. I wish all the best for South Africa in hosting the Fifa World Cup. It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase your country and all its beauty, especially in its people.

loriamoore on May 03, 2010:

Good to learn more about South Africa. I will visit Ethiopia this September, only my second country on the African continent.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on May 03, 2010:

Thank you Quill for dropping by and commenting. Much appreciated.

Love and peace


"Quill" on May 03, 2010:

Awesome HUb...informative and well put together a great read.


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