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Governors-General of South Africa (1910-1961)

Last modified: 2022-10-22 by bruce berry
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When the Union of South Africa came into being on 31 May 1910, it was as a self-governing Dominion within the British Empire. Britain was represented in South Africa by a Governor-General who was also High Commissioner and whose responsibilities extended to the adjacent colonies of Basutoland and Swaziland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It was then considered that these territories might, at some future date, be incorporated into the Union of South Africa.

South Africa remained a Dominion until 1961 when, following a referendum amongst the whites-only voters, it became a republic on 31 May and later withdrew from the British Commonwealth. With the change to a republican form of government, the office of the Governor-General was abolished and a President became the Head of State. A distinctive flag for the President was also adopted to replace the flag of the Governor-General. This flag followed the design of the former Governor-General's flag in that it was also blue with the South African coat of arms in the centre, ensigned with the letters SP in gold.
Bruce Berry, 21 Feb 1998

There were three different Governor-General's flags for South Africa:

  • The Union Jack with the Union arms in the centre roundel, used in the first two decades of Union (1910-1931).
  • The royal crest with the Tudor crown and two scrolls (1931-1953).
  • The royal crest with St Edward's crown and two scrolls (1953-1961).

Mike Oettle, 22 May 2002

Flag of Governor-General of South Africa (1910-1931)

[flag of the Governor-General of South Africa] image by Blas Delgado Ortiz,14 May 2002, after image sent by Mike Oettle, 07 May 2002

Here are images scanned from National and Provincial Symbols by F G Brownell (Chris van Rensburg Publications, 1993) [brl93] of the Union Jack flag of the Governor-General of South Africa from 1910 until 1931 and of the coat of arms emblem in the roundel at the centre of the flag.
Brownell is the recently retired State Herald of South Africa.
Mike Oettle, 07 May 2002

[Governor-General's emblem] sent by Mike Oettle, 07 May 2002

Flag of the Governor-General of South Africa (1931-1953)

image by Martin Grieve, 17 Apr 2013

South Africa 1931-1953 (two scrolls, bilingual) with Tudor crown - image after 'Flags of The World' by Bill Yenne, Published by Bison Books, 1993 [ynn93].
Željko Heimer, 26 Mar 2003

The Governor-General of South Africa flew a flag with the Tudor Crown Royal Crest on a dark blue field from 1931-1953 and thereafter with a St. Edward's Crown Royal Crest from 1953 until 30 May 1961. The crest was between two scrolls inscribed with the name of the country in both official languages, "Union of South Africa" (English) above and "Unie van Suid-Afrika" (Afrikaans) below.

This design for the flags of the Governors-General followed the Balfour Declaration of 1926 which reflected the move towards greater self-determination and sovereignty and defined in general terms the constitutional relationship between Great Britain and the self-governing dominions. In the words of the Declaration, Great Britain and the dominions were "equal in status, and in no way subordinate to one another". These sentiments were later embodied in the Statute of Westminster (December 1931). Subsequently King George V decided that the flags of the Governors-General of all the Dominions should be adapted to indicate more clearly their changed function as his personal representatives. The introduction of this new flag coincided with the arrival of a new Governor-General, the Earl of Clarendon, in South Africa. The Earl was sworn in on 26 January 1931 in Cape Town, following which the new flag would have been flown. Prior to this, as correctly surmised by Santiago, the Governor-General flew a British Union flag charged in the centre with the full South African arms between 31 May 1910 and 1931.
Bruce Berry, 14 May 2002

And this should be the famous acacia wreath typical of British South Africa flags, briefly referred on our page at <nz_gov.html>.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 16 May 2002

Blue flags with the royal crest and scroll(s) were introduced for Governor-Generals in the 1930s in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

It is usually said that they were intended to show that, following the Balfour Declaration of 1926, Governor-Generals no longer represented the British Government, but had become representatives of the British monarch. However it is possible that this was not the original reason for introducing the flags.

A special defaced Union Jack existed for Governor-Generals when embarked in a boat or vessel, but there was no special flag for use on land. A plain Union Jack was flown daily from sunrise to sunset on Government House, the residence of the Governor-General.

In 1928 the Nationality and Flags Act established the practice of flying both Union Jack and South African Union Flag on Government buildings in the Union of South Africa. King George V did not want his personal representative in South Africa to fly any flag except the Union Jack. General Hertzog, the South African Prime Minister, was prepared to accede to the King's wishes on this point, but it was felt that there were bound to be protests from some members of the Assembly if the South African Union Flag was not flown with the Union Jack on Government House. It was suggested that if the Governor-General had a special flag, instead of the Union Jack, there would be no obligation to fly the South African Union Flag alongside it.

Unfortunately the file ends at that point, but the haphazard way in which the flags were introduced does support the idea that, although they did come to symbolise the new constitutional relationship between Britain and the Dominions, this was not their original purpose. Had it been, all four flags would surely have been introduced at the same time ?

Perhaps on the 01 January 1932, after the British Parliament had given the Balfour Declaration legal standing by enacting the Statute of Westminster on 12 December 1931. Instead, the flag was already in use in South Africa (January 1931) and Canada (April 1931), but was not used in New Zealand until April 1935. The Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, had refused to fly the flag, and it remained in store until he was succeeded by Lord Galway. In Australia the Prime Minister, James Scullin, did not favour the change, and the flag was not adopted there until July 1936.

[National Archives (PRO) DO 35/253/5, DO 35/628/3, DO 117/100]
David Prothero, 12 April 2005

Incidentally, if you take a look on page 71 of Alfred Znamierowski's The World Encyclopedia of Flags (1999) [zna99] he shows a dot between each word on the scrolls. Based on a photograph of this flag in the collection of Bruce Berry, this was not the case and there is a cross-shaped device between each word.
Martin Grieve, 17 April 2013

Flag of the Governor-General of South Africa (1953-1961)

[Governor General 1953-1961 flag] image by Željko Heimer, 26 Mar 2003

South Africa 1953-1961 (two scrolls, bilingual) with St Edward's crown - image after 'Flags of The World' by Bill Yenne, Published by Bison Books, 1993 [ynn93].
Željko Heimer, 24 Mar 2003

The blue flag of the Governor-General with the St Edward's crown was used between 1953 until South Africa became a republic on 31 May 1961, after which a President replaced the Governor-General as Head of State.
Bruce Berry, 21 Feb 1998