National Coat of Arms
A national Coat of Arms, or state emblem, is the highest visual
symbol of the State.
The Coat of Arms is also a central part of the Great Seal,
traditionally considered to be the highest emblem of the State.
Absolute authority is given to every document with an impression
of the Great Seal on it, as this means that it has been approved
by the President of South Africa.
South Africa’s Coat of Arms was launched on Freedom Day, 27
April 2000. The change reflected government's aim to highlight
the democratic change in South Africa and a new sense of
The Coat of Arms is a series of elements organised in distinct
symmetric egg-like or oval shapes placed on top of one another.
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The lower oval shape represents the elements of
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 shape of the shield makes reference to the 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 a spear and a knobkierie, crossed in
a single unit. These elements are arranged harmoniously to give
focus to the shield and complete the lower oval shape of
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The oval shape of ascendance
Immediately above the oval shape of foundation, is the visual
centre of the Coat of Arms, a protea. The petals of the protea
are rendered in a triangular pattern reminiscent of the crafts
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
The rising sun above the horizon is placed between the wings of
the secretary bird and completes the oval shape of ascendance.
The combination of the upper and lower oval shapes intersect to
form 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.
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The oval shape of foundation
The motto is: !ke e: /xarra //ke, written in the Khoisan
language of the /Xam people, literally meaningdiverse 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.
Pronunciation of !ke e: /xarra //ke:
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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.
Elephants symbolise wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.
It has a dual function as a vehicle for the display of identity
and of spiritual defence. It contains the primary symbol of our
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,
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.
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The oval shape of ascendance
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 grow 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 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,
symbolising 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,
while simultaneously offering us its protection. It is depicted
in gold, which clearly symbolises its association with the sun
and the highest power.
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
willpower. It is the symbol of the source of life, of light and
the ultimate wholeness of humanity.
The completed structure of the Coat of Arms combines the lower
and higher oval shape 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 and the sun rising at the top,
forms the shape of the cosmic egg from which the secretary bird
rises. In the symbolic sense, this is the implied rebirth of the
spirit of our great and heroic nation.
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Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
requested ideas for the new Coat of Arms from the public last
year. Based on the ideas received, along with input from the
Cabinet, a brief was written. The
Government Communication and
Information System (GCIS) then approached Design South Africa -
an umbrella body representing design agencies across the country
- to brief ten of the top designers. Three designers were chosen
to present their concepts to the Cabinet. Mr Iaan Bekker's
design was chosen for the new Coat of Arms. He is a director of
the FCB Group and has designed numerous corporate identities for
public and private sector organisations.
The new Coat of Arms enhances Batho Pele
Batho Pele is a Sesotho phrase meaning ‘People First’,
committing the public service to serve all the people of South
Africa. The Batho Pele values and principles underpin the
country’s Coat of Arms. On 1 October 1997, the Public Service
embarked on a Batho Pele campaign aimed at improving service
delivery, to the public. For this new approach to succeed, some
changes need to take place. Public service systems, procedures,
attitudes and behaviour need to better serve its customers – the
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Batho Pele is a commitment to values
- Regular consultation with customers about the quality of
- Setting service standards specifying the quality of
services that customers can expect
- Increasing access to services especially to those
disadvantaged by racial, gender, geographical, social,
cultural, physical, communication, and attitude-related
- Ensuring higher levels of courtesy by specifying and
adhering to set standards for the treatment of customers
- Providing more and better information about services so
that customers have full, accurate, relevant and up-to-date
information about the services they are entitled to receive
- Increasing openness and transparency about how services
are delivered, the resources they use and who is in charge
- Remedying failures and mistakes so that when problems
occur, there is a positive response and resolution to the
- Giving the best possible value for money so that
customers feel their contribution to the State through
taxation, is used effectively and efficiently and savings
are ploughed back to further improve service delivery.
Batho Pele is about eliminating wasteful and expensive internal
systems that were not designed to put the needs of the people
first. It is also about making sure that the Public Service’s
financial planning is in line with the public’s needs and
Most of the improvements that the public would like to see cost
nothing, such as: a smile, treating customers with
respect, being honest when providing information and
apologising if things go wrong. These are not a matter of
additional resources - they are a matter of adopting different
standards of behaviour.
Improving service delivery is about re-aligning everything we do
to ‘customer service’ principles. The implementation of Batho
Pele is not a once-off task. It is a continuous, dynamic
process, that will go on for many years, gathering momentum all
We need to work jointly, as the Government and the public, to
make the principles of Batho Pele a reality for a nation at work
for a better life. (Speech by President Thabo Mbeki at the
launch of the Coat of Arms, at Kwaggafontein, Bloemfontein, on
27 April 2000)
Compiled by: Government Communication and Information System (GCIS),
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