University of Botswana History Department

Southern African states and their flags

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Map of Southern Africa

Map of Southern Africa

 
Test your knowledge of Southern African states: click on a country to see which it is. [The map at left is a PNG image. If your browser cannot display the image, click here for JPEG version.]


Botswana Lesotho South Africa Zimbabwe Swaziland Namibia Zambia Mozambique Malawi Madagascar Angola Tanzania Congo (DRC)

 
 
 
 
 
 


Some remarks on flags

At first glance flag designs seem largely arbitrary. However, when you look closer, you will start to see patterns, which make the subject more interesting. Flag design belongs to one of those art forms where strict limits are what produce the interest. There is some parallel to strict verse forms like the haiku.

If you look at different regions of the world, you will find different patterns predominating. This is because these patterns have meanings - either explicit meanings, or implicit suggestions of affinity. For example, some flags include Islamic symbols as an explicit statement of their countries' Muslim idenity. Similarly, the old Soviet Union and its satellites displayed symbols of Communism such as the Hammer and Sickel on their flags.

Some symbols are slightly vaguer. In Africa, many flags make use of the Pan-African Colours (red, green and gold, based on the flag of Ethiopia), or the Black Liberation colours (red, green, and black) of Marcus Garvey. The two may be combined, as in the flag of Ghana (horizontal stripes of red, gold and green with a black star). In the Arab world you will see many flags using the black, green, white and red "Pan-Arab" colours which were originally the flag of the "Arab Revolt" in the First World War.

Some flags indicate the circumstances of their origins. In Europe, vertically divided tricolours are frequently associated with revolutions (because of the flag of the French Revolution). This is not necessarily true however.

More loosely still, you can see general regional patterns in flag design which indicate a sense of affinity. In the South Pacific, the Southern Cross appears on a number of flags (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa). In Africa, horizontal stripes are a common pattern. The French-style tricolour appears however as well, notably in Francophone states like Guinea, Senegal and Mali, and it is only a matter of a tendency.

Among the most common themes in African flags are the following:

Apart from these general themes, of course, are the specific attributes

Flags are like almost anything: they become interesting if you know something about them.


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Angola

Flag of Angola

Graphic of flag by Zeljko Heimer, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

Based on the flag of the MPLA. Symbols of industry and agriculture. The red and black originally derive from Cuban and Sandanista revolutionary symbolism but were subsequently re-interpreted as red for revolution and black for Africa. [1]

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Botswana

Flag of Botswana

Graphic of flag by Mark Sensen, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

Click here for Botswana National Anthem (MIDI audio file). From www.thenationalanthems.com

Blue for rain, and the black and white for non-racialism. (In 1966, surrounded by racist states, non-racialism was not as bland a declaration as it may seem now.) Botswana's national animal is the Zebra.

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Congo (DRC)

Flag of Congo (DRC)

Source: Wiki Commons

Apart from the period of President Mobutu Sese Seko's rule, during which the country used the name "Zaire", the DRC has had a variety of flags all based on a blue field and a gold star, sometimes with a Tanzanian-style diagonal stripe. The current flag dates from 2006. The original flag of gold star on blue was that of the infamous "Congo Free State", a horrific privately-owned colony.[2]

Zaire flag, 1971-97 (Source: Wiki Commons):
Zaire flag

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Lesotho

Flag of Lesotho

(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Lesotho)

This is the new flag of Lesotho which was introduced in October 2006, on the 40th Independence commemoration. It is reported that it is hoped that the new flag will be more accepted as a symbol of unity than the previous flags (see below). This is the third flag since independence.

Previous flag of Lesotho

(Above) Previous flag, 1987-2006. Graphic of flag by Zeljko Heimer, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

Independence flag of Lesotho

(Above) The original 1966 flag. Graphic by Zeljko Heimer, redone by Antonio Martins, 1 May 1999, "FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://www.fotw.ca/flags/"

According to some sources, the original flag was regarded as being a party flag, based on the BNP Basuto National Party colours, while the second flag (1987) was associated with the military coup which overthrew the BNP. The new flag's colours of white, blue and green refer to the national motto Khotso, Pula, Nala (Peace, rain, prosperity) and the Basotho Hat is a long-established Sotho symbol.

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Madagascar

Flag of Madagascar

Graphic of flag by Antonio Martins , FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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Malawi

Source: Wiki Commons

This flag was used from independence (1964) to 2010, when a revised form was adopted (see below). The change was however generaaly unpopular, and was reversed in 2012.

2010-12 flag: (Source: Wiki Commons)
Malawi flag, 2010-12

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Mozambique

Flag of Mozambique

Graphic of flag by Mark Sensen, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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Namibia

Flag of Namibia

Graphic of flag by Zeljko Heimer, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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South Africa

Flag of South Africa

Graphic of flag by Mark Sensen, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

As many will recall, in the transition period there was a public competition for a new flag for South Africa to replace the 1928 flag which was associated with the pre-liberation government, but none of the designs were found generally appealing. With the date of the 1994 elections approaching, an Interim Flag was therefore adopted. After some initial hesitation there was a positive public response and there was widespread agreement that it should be the final flag as well.

The colours were stated to have no official meaning. However it can be noted that they include both the ANC colours (green gold, black) and the colours red, white, and blue which are those of the British and Dutch flags. Since 1994 meanings have come to be unofficially attributed. The green Y-shape - which in classic European heraldry is called a pall - is often seen as indicating the coming together of different cultures and peoples in the New South Africa. The wide range of colours is also often now associated with the "Rainbow Nation" concept.

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Swaziland

Flag of Swaziland

Graphic of flag from FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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Tanzania

Flag of Tanzania

Graphic of flag by Zeljko Heimer, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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Zambia

Flag of Zambia

Graphic of flag by Mark Sensen, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

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Zimbabwe

Flag of Zimbabwe

Graphic of flag by Mark Sensen, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

Notice the Zimbabwe bird, a mythological creature whose images are found in the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe.

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The African Union

African Union flag

[Source: Wiki Commons]

Below is the flag of the old Organization of African Unity:

Flag of the OAU

Graphic of OAU flag by Stuart Notholt, FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Map of Southern Africa (JPEG version)

Map of Southern Africa

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


[1] William Crampton, The Complete Guide to Flags, (London: Kingfisher, 1989) p.97.

[2] Crampton, The Complete Guide to Flags, p. 94.

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Copyright © 2000 University of Botswana History Department
Last updated 12 August 2010.