Constructing the Flag
In the last year, you have probably seen dozens of T-shirts, stickers and key-rings sporting the South African flag. You might even want to make your own. But is the design standardised ? For instance, is there an 'official' angle in the triangle at the base, or a set thickness for the green 'Y'? Well, perhaps we should start with the official documentation:
'The National flag shall be rectangular in the proportion of two in the width to three to the length; per pall from the hoist, the upper band red (chilli) and lower band blue, with a black triangle at the hoist; over the partition lines a green pall one fifth the width of the flag, fimbriated white against the red and blue, and gold against the black triangle at the hoist, and the width of the pall and its fimbriations is one third the width of the flag.'
- Addendum to Transitional Executive Council agenda
You might want to read that a few times, but with the help of a dictionary and an encyclopedia entry on heraldry we were able to decode it.
The dimensions of the flag are there clearly enough - 2:3. There seems to be no mention of a large capital 'Y', or of the angle in the triangle. But the dictionary tells us that pall is a heraldic term meaning, roughly, a capital Y-shape. 'Per pall from the hoist' means the flag is divided by a Y with its top against the hoist (flagpole) end of the rectangle.
In fact pall has a specific meaning that clears up the question of the angle in the triangle as well. The upper half of a pall forms half of a St Andrews Cross, such as we see on the Scottish flag. In other words, if we extended the arms of the Y to the right, they would go through the far corners of the flag. The centre of the pall is thus at the centre of the rectangle. Go check your keyring, sticker or T-shirt - most of them have this part wrong!
All that is left is the thicknesses of the lines. Fimbriation is another heraldic term, which refers to a narrow outline around an object. Here there are fimbriations around the pall, and the colours are specified. The pall itself is green and one fifth the width of the flag, and the pall plus two fimbriations together are one third the width of the flag.
Now we get down to the construction business!
First, a rectangle in the ratio 2:3, the St Andrew Cross which we then turn into a pall by drawing a horizontal line from the centre:
Now divide the rectangle into 3 horizontal bands of equal thickness. Divide the middle band by placing across it a band which is one fifth the width of the flag (this will form the pall and fimbriations):
Now draw similar bands, centred about the arms of the Y, with the centre of the band on the arm itself.
This completes your construction. If only REconstruction was as simple...
The above article was written in 1995, before the new Constitution came into effect. The new constitution replaced the original heraldic description of the flag with the following definition written in plain English.
The National Flag
- The national flag is rectangular; it is one and a half times longer than it is wide.
- It is black, gold, green, white, chilli red and blue.
- It has a green Y-shaped band that is one fifth as wide as the flag. The centre lines of the band start in the top and bottom corners next to the flag post, converge in the centre of the flag, and continue horizontally to the middle of the free edge.
- The green band is edged, above and below in white, and towards the flag post end, in gold. Each edging is one fifteenth as wide as the flag.
- The triangle next to the flag post is black.
- The upper horizontal band is chilli red and the lower horizontal band is blue. These bands are each one third as wide as the flag.
- Schedule One, Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996