Armoria patriæ

Western Cape Province

Provinsie Wes-Kaap

iPhondo leNtshona-Koloni

motto “Spes Bona” / names / languages

Western Cape Province

These arms, designed by State Herald F G Brownell, were approved by the provincial Executive Council and announced in the Provincial Gazette Extraordinary of 19 May 1998. They may be blazoned:

Arms: Tierced in pile embowed: I argent, an anchor gules; II argent a bunch of red wine grapes proper, leaved vert; III azure, a clay pot or.

The shield ensigned of a crown or, its circlet decorated with a beaded Bushman headring comprising alternating triangles, gules above and azure below, and embellished with alternating protea inflorescences and annulets or, the florets argent.

Supporters, compartment and motto: Dexter a quagga, sinister a bontebok, both proper and standing upon a stylised representation of Table Mountain with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head azure. In the base of the compartment two ostrich wing plumes or, placed in fess with the quills together. The motto scroll laid across the quills, bearing the words Spes Bona.

Heraldic expert Cor Pama was approached in 1994 to draft proposals for a coat of arms for the new province. However, he died before he was able to complete the project. Major Brownell, who was then approached, consulted during 1995 with representatives of all the parties in the provincial legislature. The design he produced was then approved unanimously by all parties in 1996.

The anchor is taken from the one held by the symbolic figure of Hope which formed the crest of the arms of the Cape of Good Hope Colony (Cape Colony) and its successor, the Cape of Good Hope Province (Cape Province). It symbolises hope, stability and faith, and alludes to the maritime history and riches of the Western Cape. The anchor’s colouring (red on argent) is a reversal of the Cape Province’s quarter in the arms of the Union of South Africa, in which the lady Hope was argent on a red background.

The grapes allude to the importance of agriculture, and specifically the importance of the province as a major wine-producing area.

The clay pot in the base of the shield is an artefact created by some of the earliest inhabitants of the province. It is modelled on a pot of Khoikhoi[1] origin found in the Ceres district. As a manufactured object, it also symbolises the province’s industries. Its distinctive shape was dictated by the sandy conditions where it was used.

The coronet comprises two distinct elements: a bead headring and the embellishment of protea inflorescences and annulets. The headring is a characteristic ornament of the hunter-gatherer Bushman[2] people, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Western Cape, who were closely related to the cattle-keeping Khoikhoi.

The proteas most closely resemble Protea cynaroides,[3] the national flower of South Africa.

The annulets are taken from the family arms of Jan van Riebeeck, founder of the Cape settlement in 1652. These arms – gules, three annulets or – were granted to the Cape Town Community Council (Raad der Gemeente Kaapstad) in 1804 and subsequently became incorporated in the arms of the Cape Colony and many other South African coats of arms. Two whole proteas and two half-inflorescences can be seen in the coronet, and three annulets appear in between the flowers.

The quagga (Equus quagga quagga), which was characteristic of Western Cape’s wildlife before hunting reduced it disastrously, was once thought to be extinct. The last known specimen died in the Amsterdam Zoo in the Netherlands more than a century ago. However the quagga is now believed by scientists to have been a variant or subspecies of Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchelli). The quagga’s distinctive colouring resulted from a disappearance of the characteristic zebra stripes below the shoulder, resulting in a chocolate-brown rump, chest and outer tail. Burchell’s zebra showing tendencies towards this colouring are currently the subject of an intensive breeding programme. The name quagga is of Khoikhoi origin and is onomatopœic, while zebra is a word of Iberian derivation (Portuguese, from Old Spanish) originally meaning “wild ass”.

The bontebok (Damaliscus dorcas dorcas), which was saved from the brink of extinction through the action of the Cape Provincial Administration, is unique to the Western Cape, being found until recently only within a triangle marked by Bredasdorp, Cape Agulhas and Swellendam. It was especially preserved on the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, but is also kept on the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Closely related to the smaller blesbok (D dorcas philippsi), the bontebok stands 102 cm tall at the shoulder and is deep reddish brown with lyre-shaped horns and striking white markings on the face, rump, underparts and legs. It was the provincial animal of the Cape Province.

Table Mountain, its northern face dominating Table Bay and its eastern face the Cape Flats, is the Western Cape’s most distinctive natural feature. The arms of Cape Town include only the two peaks, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, while its eastern face (with Devil’s Peak) can be seen in the arms of Rondebosch.

The ostrich feathers represent the world’s largest living bird, Struthio camelus, which occurred naturally in this province until it was found to have commercial usefulness. Oudtshoorn, in the Little Karoo, remains the world centre of the ostrich industry, based originally solely on the feathers of the bird and for a while resulting in great wealth, but nowadays making use of its meat, skin and virtually every other part of its body. The fact that the plumes are coloured make them a symbol of the ostrich feather industry, rather than the wild bird. The wild bird can, however, once more be found in nature reserves. The cultivated variety of ostrich is the product of a cross between birds of the Southern African race and birds of the Saharan/Arabian race imported from Northern Nigeria during the 1920s. A third race is found in East Africa.

The motto, Spes Bona, meaning “good hope”, is identical to the motto of the Cape Province and Cape Colony, as well as that of both the City and the University of Cape Town, and continues a tradition going back to 1488, when the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Dias rounded the cape at the foot of the Cape Peninsula and named it Cabo de Bõa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope).

History was falsified when he returned to Portugal, where it was recorded that Dias had named the promontary Cabo Tormentoso (Cape of Storms), so that credit could be given to King João II for the optimistic – and prophetic – name Cabo de Bõa Esperança. This was a reference to the hope that a route to the East would be discovered, which was fulfilled in in 1497 with the journey of Vasco da Gama.

It is worth noting that the Latin form, Spes Bona, was well established at the Cape when the Cape Colony’s arms were devised. C A Fairbridge, the attorney who devised the arms, was criticised in the Cape Argus (13 May 1875): “We understand that one very estimable gentleman objected to the introduction of that abominable ‘Dutch’ phrase Spes Bona as one of the mottoes for the shield, and we understand, moreover, that Mr Fairbridge satisfied his querist with the explanation that, being Dutch, the phrase in question would, as the Prayer Book hath it, be generally ‘understood of the people’.”

About the province:
The Western Cape Province – one of four new provinces split from the Cape Province – formally came into being on 27 April 1994, when all-race elections were held for the first time in South Africa. It is headed by a Premier, elected from and by the Provincial Legislature, who is supported by an Executive Council whose members must be members of the legislature.

The Western Cape is immensely larger than the original Dutch settlement in Table Bay, which measured only a few hectares, but is less than a quarter the size of the Cape Colony, the political unit which grew from that first settlement.

The province comprises the 40 magisterial districts of:

Beaufort West, Bellville, Bredasdorp, Caledon, Calitzdorp, Cape Town, Ceres, Clanwilliam, George, Goodwood, Heidelberg, Hermanus, Hopefield, Knysna, Kuils River, Ladismith, Laingsburg, Malmesbury, Montagu, Mossel Bay, Murraysburg, Oudtshoorn, Paarl, Piketberg, Prince Albert, Riversdale, Robertson, Simonstown, Somerset West, Stellenbosch, Strand, Swellendam, Tulbagh, Uniondale, Vanrhynsdorp, Vredenburg, Vredendal, Wellington, Wynberg and Worcester.

Name of the province:
The languages chiefly spoken in the Western Cape are Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, which is why the province’s name is given in these three languages. Xhosa, being the most recently arrived, is listed last. Koloni, meaning “colony”, is the Xhosa name for the old Cape Province/Colony, and ntshona means west. Phondo is the isiNguni (including isiXhosa) for province.

Of all the provinces stemming from the Cape Province, Western Cape could most appropriately call itself Cape of Good Hope. However, while the name “Cape” is still used by the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, this would seem inappropriate.

Languages of the province:
Afrikaans is far and away the majority language. English is spoken by a high proportion of city-dwellers, but a small minority in the rural areas. However, rural local authorities often prefer English because of the association of Afrikaans with apartheid.

Xhosa is the language of a group that already in the 19th century was represented in the Mother City and on a few farms, but the numbers of Xhosa speakers grew immensely in the 20th century, especially in the eastern parts of the Cape Flats, where people especially from Ciskei and Transkei settled in the ’70s to ’90s.

The western and southern parts of the Cape Flats, and other parts of the Cape metropole where so-called Coloured people form the majority, is also home to the “Capie” dialect, a mixture of chiefly English and Afrikaans words. In the rural areas, Coloured people speak essentially the same dialects as white Afrikaans-speakers – and in the Western Cape the dialects of Afrikaans show more variety than in other parts of the country.

The province’s population was in the past classified according to race: white, Coloured and black (literally “Bantu”, which covered abeNguni and black minorities), as well as small minorities of Indian and Chinese origin.

In other countries “Coloured”[4] is used to indicate people who are partly black, partly white, but in South Africa it indicates a community, or grouping of communities, which is chiefly of yellow- or brown-skinned origin, although most Coloured have a measure of white ancestry and many are part black. The term was used in the statistics of the Cape Colony to cover all who spoke English or Afrikaans but who were not part of the “European” group. The usage had its origin in a classification of the Dutch East India Company under which such people were classified as “vrij zwarten” (free blacks).

It includes people of Asiatic ancestry, especially of Malay (Indonesian or Peninsular Malay) origin, but also people of Khoikhoi and Bushman origin. In the Cape metropole the Coloured population includes people of both Oriental origin (especially in areas where there are mosques) and of Khoisan ancestry, and many of them are English-speaking, but in the rural areas, most of the Coloured inhabitants belong to this last category (Khoikhoi or Bushman) and are Afrikaans-speaking.

[1] The term Khoikhoi (also written as Khoekhoe or Kwekwena) means “men of men”. It is applied to the descendants of Tshu-Khwe Bushmen (still to be found along the Botswana/Zimbabwe border near Hwange and along the northern border of Botswana to Namibia) who acquired cattle and trekked southwards, first to the Orange or Gariep River and subsequently to the Eastern and Western Cape coastal regions. Obtaining meat from their cattle was the chief object of the Dutch refreshment station established in Table Bay in 1652. (The Khoikhoi were formerly misnamed Hottentot, a word now known to be insulting.)

[2] It is fashionable to refer to Bushmen as San, since “Bushman” (“Bosjesmannen” in Dutch) was originally a taunt used to describe the rough shelters used by these Stone Age hunters. However, “San” is also a taunt, used by Khoikhoi to dismiss the hunter-gatherers as being “almost animals”. A conference of surviving Bushman/San bands in Namibia in 1995 agreed to use the term Bushman for their ethnic group.

[3] To see other images of Protea cynaroides, click here, here, here and here.

[4] There is considerable debate over whether the term Coloured is acceptable. It is seen as politically correct either not to refer to people of this group by that term, or to speak of “so-called Coloured”, but there also many who are proud to be called Coloured.


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  • Image courtesy of Bruce Berry.

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