Fresh off South Africa’s 6th democratic elections, we learned that the man who designed the flag that symbolises the rainbow nation as South Africa is affectionately known has passed on.

Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa has sent his condolences to the family. Fred Brownell passed away at the age of 79 at his home in Pretoria on Friday night.

Minister Nathi Mthethwa shared his condolences and the story behind the design of the South African flag.

The Story behind The South African Flag

1993 was a turning point for the country, as we were transitioning from apartheid to democracy. There was no way in hell that the old flag would still be used by the new South Africa as it symbolised racial segregation, abuse and killings towards the black nation.
Brownell was SA’s state herald from 1982 to 2002 and was responsible for approving the design and registration of coats of arms, badges and flags. He first started toying with a design for the new flag after former SA president FW de Klerk announced in Parliament on February 2 1990 that Nelson Mandela would be freed.

A public competition was held in 1993 for the design of the national flag, to this, the National Symbols Commission received more than 7,000 designs. Six designs were drawn up and presented to the public and the Negotiating Council, but none elicited enthusiastic support. A number of design studios were contacted to submit further proposals, but they were again without success. Parliament went into recess at the end of 1993 without a suitable candidate for the new national flag.

The design needed the approval of Mandela, who was in Rustenburg. There was no time to get the proposed flag to him, so a drawing was faxed to Rustenburg, where it was coloured before it was shown to Mandela, who approved it.

Brownell’s daughter, Claire, persuaded her father to revise the design of the flag because the original looked too much like the peace symbol.

Brownell graduated with a PhD in history from the University of Pretoria in 2015. His thesis focused on the symbolism of the flag he designed.

Mthethwa described the democratic SA flag as a “unifying symbol”.

But on March  15, 1994, Frederick Brownell’s design was unanimously adopted by the Transitional Executive Council.

The new national flag was initially only an interim flag and was selected and used at the last minute before the 1994 presidential elections. To South Africans, the new flag symbolizes the convergence of the disparate groups within South African society and their unification in one democratic state. The new national flag was hoisted to replace the flag that had been used since 1928.

Fred Contributed To The Independence of Two SADEC countries

It is such a symbolic coincidence that Fred Brownell’s passing happens upon SA’s completion of its successful sixth national and provincial elections, and mere days after SA celebrated 25 years of independence.

He was a visionary, as he is also responsible for designing the coat of arms and flag of Namibia after it gained independence in 1990.

In 1999 former President Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order for Meritorious Service for his role in the design of the South African flag.

He’s survived by his wife Christine, three daughters and grandchildren

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