The Land of Compromises

The Union Buildings in Pretoria, which is the seat of South Africa’s president and cabinet.
A map of South Africa, with Preoria in the northeast, Cape Town in the southwest and Bloemfontein in the center.
The South African flag waving against a clear blue sky.

South Africans of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds often think and prioritize differently. For this reason, negotiations are key to finding acceptable compromises for everybody. Agreements seldom come easily, but two examples of successful compromises in South Africa are the creation of three official capitals and the design of a multicolored national flag.

Three capitals

To expound on the first example, South Africa’s three official capitals are Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. Pretoria is home to the country’s president and cabinet, Cape Town is the seat of Parliament and Bloemfontein is where the Supreme Court of Appeal is located. The creation of these three capitals — and the separation of government institutions — was agreed on when British colonies and Boer republics merged and formed the Union of South Africa in 1910. Both former British colonies and former Boer republics, then, were honored with political power centers to signal that both peoples were important to the union.

The national flag

Continuing with the second successful compromise, South Africa’s current national flag was introduced in 1994, the year in which the transition from apartheid to majority rule was finally completed. Though without formal symbolic meaning, the flag’s informal symbolism was likely an important reason why it was broadly accepted by the South African people.

Informally, the colors black, green and yellow on the South African flag can be said to represent non-white people, since these colors are found on the banners of the predominantly black organizations the ANC, the PAC and Zulu-based Inkatha. The remaining three colors on the flag: red, white and blue, are found on the British and Dutch flags, and can unofficially be said to represent white people. Furthermore, the South African flag’s y-shape design, in combination with the black and white colors, is often interpreted as black and white people coming together, which was what formally happened at the time the flag was introduced.