Sunday, May 04, 2014

Fred Brownell: The man who made South Africa's flag

Xin Fan
April 26, 2014.

 Fred Brownell
The multi-coloured flag of modern South Africa is a symbol of its post-apartheid rebirth. But while Nelson Mandela led the country on a "long walk" to freedom, the creation of the flag 20 years ago was a frantic sprint by an unsung hero, writes Xin Fan.

On a Saturday night at the end of February 1994 Fred Brownell's phone rang. The voice on the other end asked him to get a new national flag designed - within a week.

"It scared the living daylights out of me," says Brownell, now 74 and living in retirement in Pretoria.

Brownell was state herald, and had long known that the emerging new South Africa would need a new flag, but until this point he had not been asked to play a central role.

Initially, members of the public had been asked for their ideas. Some 7,000 sketches had been sent in, but none was judged appropriate. Then the authorities had turned to design studios. That too proved fruitless.

The months had passed by and now the first democratic elections - when the new flag was expected to be fluttering in the South African breeze - were little more than eight weeks away. Hence the urgent Saturday night call to Brownell.

Fortunately, he had already given the subject some thought.

He had been asking himself for some time what the new South African flag should look like. But his sketches had all ended up in the wastepaper basket until one day in August 1993, when he sat listening to an "interminable speech" at an international flag conference in Zurich.

"My mind started wandering," he recalls. "And then it struck me - aren't we looking for convergence and unification?" The convergence of the disparate groups within South African society, and their unification in one democratic state.
Read the rest here.
Comment: South Africa heads to the polls on Wednesday.  The ruling African National Congress and its alliance partners, COSATU and the SACP, are expected to win a landslide election just short of a two-thirds majority in parliament.

When I read the article above this morning I wondered how many South Africans know the story of their national flag.

I would hazard a guess that not too many know that Fred Brownell designed the flag.  As of an hour ago I too was blissfully unaware of the man behind the flag.

What I did know was that Cyril Ramaphosa played a role in deciding the adoption of the flag.

As flags go I appreciate the story behind its design and now as election day edges closer I can claim to be more educated about the country I live in.

Though I must admit I have never really been drawn to the flag - well any flag really.  But that is another story and critique of nationalism and its herd mentality.


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