ADDRESS AT THE UNVEILING OF THE COAT
OF ARMS, Kwaggafontein, 27 April 2000
Today, on our Freedom Day, we are also gathered here
to unveil yet another symbol of our national identity,
our new Coat of Arms that now stands before us for the
very first time.
It is both South African and African. It is both African
It serves to evoke our distant past, our living present
and our future as it unfolds before us. It represents
the permanent yet evolving identity of the South African
people as it shapes itself through time and space.
Through this new coat of arms, we pay homage to our
past. We seek to embrace the indigenous belief systems
of our people, by demonstrating our respect for the
relationship between people and nature, which for millions
of years has been fundamental to our self-understanding
of our African condition.
It recollects the times when our people believed that
there was a force permeating nature which linked the
living with the dead.
It pays tribute to our land and our continent as the
cradle of humanity, as the place where human life first
A central image of our new coat of arms is the legendary
Secretary Bird with its uplifted wings. This over-arching
protector is a bird which slays serpents and thus protects
us against those who would do us harm.
Above the bird is the rising sun, a force that gives
life while it represents the flight of darkness and
the triumph of discovery, knowledge, the understanding
of things that have been hidden, illuminating also the
new life that is coming into being - our new nation
as it is born and evolves.
Below the bird, is the protea, an indigenous flower
of our land which represents beauty, the aesthetic harmony
of our cultures, our flowering as a nation as we grow
towards the sun.
The ears of wheat are emblems of the fertility of our
land which has provided sustenance to our people for
millennia as it will do in perpetuity.
The tusks of the African elephant, reproduced in pairs
to represent men and women, symbolise wisdom, steadfastness
At the centre stands a shield which signifies the protection
of our being from one generation to the other. Above
it repose a spear and a knobkierie. Together, this ensemble
asserts the defence of peace rather than a posture of
This shield of peace, that also suggests an African
drum, thus, simultaneously, conveys the message of a
people imbued with love for culture, its upper part
as a shield being imaginatively represented by the protea.
Contained within the shield are some of the earliest
representations of the human person in the world.
Those depicted, who were the very first inhabitants
of our land, the Khoisan people, speak to our commitment
to celebrate humanity and to advance the cause of the
fulfilment of all human beings in our country and throughout
These figures are derived from images on the Linton
Stone, a world famous example of South African Rock
They are depicted in an attitude of greeting, demonstrating
the transformation of the individual into a social being
who belongs to a collective and interdependent humanity.
The motto of our new Coat of Arms, written in the Khoisan
language of the /Xam people, means: diverse people unite
or people who are different join together.
We have chosen an ancient language of our people. This
language is now extinct as no one lives who speaks it
as his or her mother-tongue.
This emphasises the tragedy of the millions of human
beings who, through the ages, have perished and even
ceased to exist as peoples, because of peoples inhumanity
It also says that we, ourselves, can never be fully
human if any people is wiped off the face of the earth,
because each one of us is a particle of the complete
By inscribing these words on our Coat of Arms - !ke
e: /xarra //ke - we make a commitment to value life,
to respect all languages and cultures and to oppose
racism, sexism, chauvinism and genocide.
Thus do we pledge to respect the obligation which human
evolution has imposed on us - to honour the fact that
in this country that we have inherited together is to
be found one of the birthplaces of humanity itself.
Here in the language of our ancient past, we speak
to present generations and those who are still to come
about the importance of human solidarity and unity.
We say that in the heart of every individual resides
an inner necessity, an essential humanity that compels
each person, each people, to unite with another. This
impulse and this conscious action makes us who we are
and tells us where we as a South African people want
The design carries within it images of the egg, symbolising
the eternal reproduction of life. It is this forward
movement that must take us to the African Century and
the victory of the African Renaissance.
I ask you all who are gathered here today to embrace
this Coat of Arms as your own, to own it as a common
possession, representing the aspirations of a winning
nation that is conscious of the challenges that lie
ahead and is confident of its capacity to overcome its
We thank the Ministry and Department of Arts, Culture,
Science and Technology for leading us in the search
for the new Coat of Arms. We extend special thanks to
Mr. Iaan Bekker, the designer of this Coat of Arms,
whose creativity and patriotism have given all of us
a priceless and everlasting gift.
As our flag flies proudly on its mast, evoking an intense
spirit of an inclusive national identity, so must this
Coat of Arms, which exemplifies the extraordinary creativity
of our people through the ages, inspire our united and
diverse nation to strive to shine as brightly as the
I thank you.