SA flag designer dies

The Department of Arts and Culture has paid tribute to 79-year-old Fred Brownell, the man who designed SA's iconic democratic national flag. 

Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said he was distraught to learn of the passing "of a true South African hero whose name is etched in history".

He died in his home in Pretoria, Gauteng on Friday night, Mthethwa said. 

"The name of Fred Brownell is one that is synonymous with the journey taken by this fledgling democracy in the role he played in designing and producing the flag of post-democratic South Africa. Mr Fred Brownell, you gave us our identity as the nation. We honour you.

"Brownwell who worked in the Department of Arts and Culture, reportedly sought a theme for SA's flag for three years in the early 90s. "He selected and de-selected half the colours in the kaleidoscope and wrestled with one design after another," said Mthethwa.

In February 1994 the then Transitional Executive Council (TEC) considered Brownell's flag design. The committee met in Cape Town on February 28, 1994, saying the new flag had to encompass "unity, interlinking or convergence" as a theme. 

Brownell eventually handed over the full-size version of the flag to Roelf Meyer, the then government’s chief negotiator. He gave the design to his then ANC counterpart and now President Cyril Ramaphosa. Mthethwa said reports of the meeting indicated that Brownell, a Free State farmer’s son, greeted the leaders in SeSotho. 

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"The chiefs were reportedly intrigued to hear about the flag, and wanted a sneak preview. Mr Brownell had a small paper version with him and showed it to them. The chiefs asked about colours, meanings, patterns."

Shortly thereafter the meeting commenced. Mthethwa said Brownell’s own recollections of the meeting describe how Meyer and Ramaphosa took the floor and showed the flag. 

"He would recall how at that moment he had a sinking feeling, and wondered whether his flag design would be vetoed. Over the subsequent years, he narrated how just in the nick of time, enthusiastic clapping broke out from one particular corner of the room- the corner occupied by the Traditional Chiefs from QwaQwa."

When asked what had inspired his design, Brownell maintained that what mattered was that the flag "would find its way into the hearts and minds of the population at large, and became a unifying symbol".

Mthethwa said 25 years into post-democratic South Africa, Brownell’s vision remains. 

"Ours is a flag that has found its way into the hearts and minds of the population at large, and is truly a unifying symbol."The flag has a three-armed converging cross of the sort called a ‘pall’ in heraldry, to symbolise the convergence of different cultures into one.

Bronwell also designed the coat-of-arms for the new provincial governments in South Africa.