Armoria patriæ

Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (Second Republic)

Pretoria Convention / London Convention / Jameson Raid

arms of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek

Brownell writes:[1] “Following the formal recognition of the ZAR’s independence in 1881, its arms and the Vierkleur were restored. While the artistic renditions of the arms often left much to be desired, they certainly improved vastly in the last years of the Republic, reaching their peak in the armorial plaque painted for the ZAR’s Consulate-General in France, at about the time of the Anglo-Boer War.”[2]

However, in terms of the law the arms did not change, since the only legal definition of them was in the Constitution of 1858:


On a silver field there shall be placed a Wagon and a Golden Anchor, while an Eagle shall rest upon the Arms. On the right-hand side of the Arms a Man in national costume, armed with a gun and accessories. On the left-hand side a Lion.


In practice, however, the arms assumed the colours of the flag. This might have taken place as early as 1869, when the arms are first known to have been drawn with six crossed flagpoles behind the shield, but nothing is known for certain concerning either the date on which the colours were adopted, nor whether they were immediately fixed in the familiar pattern, or whether this was a gradual adaptation.

It would seem, however, that the form of the arms had become more or less fixed subsequent to their appearing in postage stamp form in 1869, with the shield used being oval; that is to say, a cartouche. (Compare this with the postage stamps of the Oranje Vrij Staat, which incorrectly illustrated an orange tree, but which was from then on accepted as proof that the arms contained such a tree.)

Although the anchor is specifically defined as being gold, in practice it was usually black, and placed on a white or silver background.

The use of the cartouche is entirely inappropriate, since in normal Western European heraldic practice[3] the cartouche is used for the arms of priests and of women (see here and here for discussions of such usage). And in the 1872 version (which appeared on the Staats Courant), the cartouche appeared also with a fancy brass rim incorporating scrollwork and eyes into which the ends of the flags are looped.

What is even more inappropriate is the fact that the cartouche-shaped shield has an inescutcheon which is not itself cartouche-shaped, but is of a conventional format.[4]

So in the long run the arms assumed a de facto appearance which can be blazoned as:


Arms: A cartouche per fess, the upper half per pale: 1. Gules, a lion couchant or; 2. Azure, a Boer on commando proper, holding a muzzle-loader, powder horn and other accessories; 3. Vert, a Voortrekker wagon outspanned proper. Upon an inescutcheon argent, an anchor proper, cabled gules. Behind the shield and draped below on each side three flags of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, mounted on lances saltirewise.

Crest: An eagle displayed inverted or, the head turned to the sinister.

Motto: Eendragt maakt magt.


The illustration which appears above is the same drawing of 1872 which appeared on the Staats Courant (and which appears in black and white on the page for the First Republic), with colours added by the writer.

I have described the eagle as a crest, which clearly was the intention. However it is literally perched on the edge of the shield, and this is the way it is described when the arms were eventually formally blazoned in 1966 (see Transvaal Province).

Brownell writes: “Until the late 1890s, and on all the Great Seals of the Republic, the eagle was consistently represented as facing to sinister, contrary to normal heraldic practice. It is only in late 1897 and 1898 that it was brought in line with accepted heraldic practice and oriented to dexter, ie towards the viewer’s left.

“It is this final, and certainly most pleasing version of the Republic’s arms which were to be adopted by the Transvaal as its Provincial arms in 1951.”


About the republic:

As far as the Volksraad was concerned, together with the Triumvirate which had led the Transvaal burghers during the Vryheidsoorlog (War of Freedom, later called the Eerste Vryheidsoorlog) of 1880-81, the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek had been restored by the Convention of Pretoria, signed on 3 August 1881, thereby ending the existence of the British possession called Transvaal.

However, in British eyes independence had not been restored. The British Government referred to the Transvaal State, not the ZAR, and within the ZAR itself there was deep dissatisfaction over the convention’s terms, especially since it differed in important respects from the peace agreement of March 1881, and embodied a number of restrictive provisions disagreeable to the republic.

When Paul Kruger was elected President in May 1883, it was agreed to send a delegation comprising Kruger, General N J Smit and Ds S J du Toit to Britain to negotiate more favourable terms.

A N Pelzer writes:[5] “The Transvaal objected to the suzerainty of Britain, and a burning question was the delimitation of the western border, where, as a result of disturbances among the tribes and the interference of White (sic) adventurers, the republics of Stellaland and Goshen had come into existence.

“The negotiations in London were successfully concluded on 27 Feb. 1884, as the new London convention removed most of the Transvaal’s grievances. No satisfactory arrangement could, however, be made regarding the western border.”

The London Convention saw the end of the so-called Transvaal State, since the territory was once more recognised as a republic. But although the state styled itself the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, Britain still referred to it as the Transvaal.

Pelzer continues: “As regards the south-eastern border, British action in Zululand since 1879 had caused unrest, with the result that a group of farmers, chiefly from the district of Utrecht under the leadership of Lucas Meyer, entered Zululand and restored Dinizulu to his throne. As a reward, a piece of territory was allotted to them and there they created a state with the name Nieuwe Republiek (New Republic) with Vryheid as capital. The young state hoped to link itself with the outside world through St Lucia Bay. This hope was dashed when the British flag was hoisted at the bay. In 1887 the Nieuwe Republiek was united with the Transvaal and became the district of Vryheid.

“The Transvaal Republic[6] still had financial difficulties, but these vanished when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand. From then the development of the republic can be called spectacular. On 8 Sept. 1886 the farms Langlaagte and Randjeslaagte were declared public diggings by President Kruger. A stream of foreigners poured into the country and a cosmopolitan community arose in the fast-growing ‘golden city’ of Johannesburg. In the economic sphere the position of the republic changed spectacularly and public services soon improved. Neighbouring Southern African states were eager to connect their harbours with the new source of wealth; in 1893 Johannesburg and Pretoria were connected with Cape Town by rail, and in 1896 with Durban. Kruger and his government, however, were resolved to have a railway to the coast that did not run through British territory, and on 21 June 1887 the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij was formed, based on a concession of 16 Nov. 1884. Construction on a railway between Pretoria and Lourenço Marques proceeded slowly, and not until 1 Jan. 1895 was a daily passenger service in both directions instituted, exactly two years after Pretoria had been connected with the Cape ports by rail. A regular service between Durban and Johannesburg followed a year later, on 2 Jan. 1896.”

After remarks on the growth of education in the republic, and its good relations with foreign countries – including treaties of peace, commerce and friendship with Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and France – Pelzer continues:

“In spite of the good relations with Britain after 1884, it became clear that the republic could not indefinitely escape a new imperialist onslaught. The discovery of gold contributed largely to this fear, because it brought the Transvaal great material wealth and a large foreign population. Desiring to maintain the nature of the young state, the Transvaal government was slow in granting civic rights to these foreigners, who ultimately outnumbered the settled population. Moreover, the Transvaal administration was ill equipped to deal with the social and industrial problems forced upon it almost overnight by the vast new cosmopolitan population attracted to the gold-mines. Discontent grew into organised resistance of a large section of these ‘uitlanders’ (foreigners), who began to conspire against the continued existence of the republic and made common cause with Cecil Rhodes, who strove to bring the country under British domination.

“This movement came to a head toward the end of 1895, with Jameson’s ill-conceived raid. On 2 Jan 1896, however, Jameson surrendered unconditionally after a skirmish at Doornkop, near Krugersdorp. The failure of the raid greatly embarrassed Rhodes and the British government, but did not put an end to the systematic preparations for a final assault on the independence of the Transvaal. Tension mounted when, on 21 April 1897, Sir Alfred Milner became High Commissioner in South Africa.[7] His declared aim, in which he received full support from Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary,[8] was to maintain Great Britain’s position as the ‘paramount power’ in South Africa, a position endangered by the new-found wealth of an independent Transvaal.

“In co-operation with some of the Uitlanders, he set about preparing for war, using Uitlander grievances as a pretext. When troop reinforcements reached South Africa in the second half of 1899 it became clear that war was inevitable. President Kruger reacted slowly. Only on 9 Oct. 1899 he issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of British troops from the borders of the republic. Britain did not comply and from 11 Oct. 1899 a state of war existed between the two countries. Because of a treaty of mutual assistance which had existed beteen the Transvaal and the Orange Free State since 9 March 1889, the latter was automatically drawn into the conflict.

“In the Second Anglo-Boer War 448 435 men took part on the British side; the combined republican armies which, in the initial stages of the war, conducted their campaigns with great success, never numbered more than 60 000 men, of whom hardly more than 30 000 were in the field at any time. The cost of the war for Britain was £228m instead of the £10m initially estimated. The loss of life was 2 000 British and, on the Boer side, 34 000, of whom 28 000 died in concentration camps. In the end Boer resistance was worn down by superior numbers, and on 31 May 1902 the Peace of Vereeniging finally ended hostilities and the existence of the Boer republics.”

This account ignores the fact that the ZAR had, in contravention of international law, already ceased to exist, having become the Transvaal Colony on 3 February 1901.

[1] In National and Provincial Symbols (Chris van Rensburg Publications).

[2] The Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.

[3] Cartouches were used routinely for royal and other official arms in Spain, but this is only one of several points of difference between Spanish (or Iberian) heraldic usage and that of the rest of Western Europe.

[4] A modern parallel for this solecism can be found in the arms of King Juan Carlos of Spain (*1938, king since 1975), whose arms usually appear in the form of a conventional shield, but whose inescutcheon of the arms of France in a red border (being the arms of his own family, the house of Bourbon-Parma, or Borbon y Parma) is usually a cartouche.

[5] In the Standard Encyclopædia of Southern Africa (Nasou).

[6] The style used by SESA for the ZAR is almost invariably “the Transvaal Republic”, although at times it is called the “South African Republic”.

While these names reflect the usage of the British and colonial governments, the ZAR never referred to itself by either name. This editorial decision is ironic, considering that Nasou is an Afrikaner-dominated company.

[7] Pelzer styles Milner “High Commissioner in South Africa”; however the formal title was “High Commissioner for South Africa”.

[8] While it was common parlance for the Secretary for the Colonies to be referred to in Britain as “Colonial Secretary”, this was confusing in the colonies, since each colony had its own Colonial Secretary at the head of its administration, below the Governor.


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Acknowledgements: Illustration of arms from National and Provincial Symbols of the Republic of South Africa by F G Brownell. Information on arms and flag from National and Provincial Symbols, historical information from various articles in the Standard Encyclopædia of Southern Africa (Nasou).

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Comments, queries: Mike Oettle