Fred Brownell, the designer of South Africa’s national flag, has died at his home in Pretoria, at the age of 79.
South Africa’s Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement that: “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.”
The Sunday Times reported in 2014 that it took Brownell two minutes to sketch the prototype of the flag in 1993.
He was attending a congress hosted by the International Flag Federation in Switzerland when he had his light-bulb during “an interminable” meeting.
“I flipped over the lecture programme and drew a sketch in less than two minutes,” Brownell said.
He said the first drawing was of three arms in “convergence and unification”.
“It was just an idea about how we could represent coming together … streams flowing into one another, whether cultural, linguistic or whatever … a unifying of people’s cultures, something that could bring the people of South Africa together,” he said.
Brownell was SA’s state herald from 1982 to 2002 and his duties included approving the design and registration of coats of arms, badges and flags.
He first started toying with a design for the new SA flag after former FW de Klerk announced in parliament on February 2, 1990 that Nelson Mandela would be freed.
“As state herald, you have to look ahead. But every bright idea I had went straight into the wastepaper basket.”
About 7,000 proposed designs were submitted and eventually whittled down to six.
Brownell’s design was one of five designs that was presented to the committee and the cabinet.
“No decision was taken there. But I watched their eyes. They were coming back to this one [the one he sketched in Switzerland].”
But the design needed Mandela’s approval who was in Rustenburg at the time. There was no time to get the proposed flag to him. A drawing was faxed to Rustenburg, where it was coloured before it was shown to Mandela, who approved it.
Brownell ’s daughter Claire, a schoolteacher at the time, persuaded her father to alter the design of the flag because the original looked too much like the peace symbol.
“The middle leg has to go,” she told her father and it did.
Brownell said he was once told that a well-designed flag could be reduced to postage-stamp size without losing any detail.
He graduated with a PhD in history from the University of Pretoria in 2015. His thesis focused on the symbolism of the flag he designed.
Mthethwa described the democratic SA flag as a “unifying symbol”.
“It is impossible to ignore the historical coincidence of Mr Brownell’s death upon South Africa’s completion of its successful 6th national and provincial elections, and mere days after South Africa celebrated its 25 years of independence.”