The man who designed South Africa’s iconic democratic national flag, Fred Brownell (79), has passed away.

The Department of Arts and Culture paid tribute to Brownell this week and Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said he was saddened to learn of the passing “of a true South African hero whose name is etched in history.”

He passed away in his home in Pretoria, Gauteng on Friday night, Mthethwa told News24.

“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.”

Mthethwa speaks about Brownell’s persistent efforts to find the right colours and the perfect design for the flag.

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, and confirmed that the new flag design had to encompass “unity, interlinking or convergence.”

Eventually Brownell handed over a full-size version of his flag concept. The government chief negotiator at the time, Roelf Meyer, handed the design over to his then ANC counterpart and currently the president, Cyril Rhamaphosa, for consideration in a meeting.

Many who were present at the meeting asked for more information about the colour, meaning and patterns of the flag.

Mthethwa said Brownell’s own recollections of the meeting describe how Meyer and Ramaphosa took the floor and presented the flag.

Brownell mentioned he had had a sinking feeling and worried his flag design would not be chosen, but during the meeting a number of Traditional Chiefs from QwaQwa who attended the meeting broke out into clapping, to his relief.

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.”



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