Corporate heraldry
November 2006 / November 2013

Academic arms

THE use of academic coats of arms in South Africa dates from the nineteenth century. They are used by schools, colleges, universities and technikons.

The earliest example appears to be the arms which Charles Bell designed for the SA College (forerunner of the University of Cape Town and the SA College School) in 1859. Hundreds, possibly a few thousand, have been designed since then.


Arms of some South African schools Schools : Boland AHS - Hilton College - International School of SA - HS Jan van Riebeeck - Mamellang-Thuto SS - HS Overkruin.

Arms of some South African schools Grey College - Hottentots-Holland HS - St Andrew's College - St John's College.

Most school coats of arms consist only of shield and motto. Some also have crests, but supporters are rare. A few girls' schools display their arms on lozenges, the traditional shield form for women.

Several symbols of learning, such as an open book, a lamp, and a flaming torch, have been widely used, to the point of becoming clichés. The flaming torch is particularly popular among Afrikaans schools.

Examples can be seen in the arms of the Boland Agricultural High School (BoH 1965), Hilton College (CoA 1936, DoI 1947, BoH 1971), the International School of SA (BoH 1998), and Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck (c1926, DoI 1948).

Since the 1970s, the Bureau of Heraldry has introduced other symbols such as a key (to unlock knowledge), and a trefoil or a trimount or a triquetra or a trefly line (to represent the three-way learner / parent / teacher partnership in education).

These can be seen in the arms of the Mamellang-Thuto Secondary School (BoH 1992) and Hoërskool Overkruin (BoH 1975). The latter arms are canting : 'overkruin' means "over the ridge".

Some schools use the arms of their founders or namesakes. Four, including Grey College in Bloemfontein, use the arms of Sir George Grey. The golden rings in the HoŽrskool Jan van Riebeeck arms come from the Van Riebeeck arms. Hottentots-Holland High School's arms (DoI 1937) are based on Simon van der Stel's.

Both St Andrew's College's (LL 1952) and St John's College's arms allude to their patron saints. The former also includes escallops and annulets from the Grahamstown civic arms, and a bishop's mitre.

Arms of some South African schools Schools : Greytown PS - Jeppe HS - LS Monument Park - Muir College.

Arms of some South African schools Rustenburg HS - Khayalethu SS - Ikemisetseng PS - HS Die Wilgers.

Like St Andrew's College, some other schools allude to their home towns or communities in their arms. The cupola in the Greytown Primary School arms (BoH 1992) refers to the Indian community which the school serves. Jeppe High School's arms (1906, BoH 1989) allude to the Witwatersrand ("ridge of white waters").

Laerskool Monument Park's arms (BoH 1975) contain a silhouette of the Voortrekker Monument, and are a rare example of brown as an heraldic colour.

Muir College's arms (1908, DoI 1937) refer to Muir (the Scottish lion) and the town of Uitenhage (cross) in the eastern province (Xhosa warrior) of the Cape (anchor). The orange border in the Rustenburg High School arms (1930s, DoI 1956) alludes to citrus farming.

The Khayalethu Special School arms (BoH 1992) are an example of the standard pattern which the Bureau devised for special schools. In each case, the shield is divided "per chevron the peak ensigned of a potent issuant". A potent represents a crutch, i.e. a means of support.

The arms of Ikemisetseng Public School (BoH 1992) suggest reaching for the stars. Those of Hoërskool Die Wilgers (BoH 1983) are canting : 'wilger' means 'willow tree'.

Colleges and technical colleges

Arms of some South African colleges Colleges : Elsenburg Agricultural - Saasveld Forestry - Soweto Teachers. Technical colleges : Cape Town - RSA - Vanderbijlpark.

A similar variety is to be found among the arms of professional and vocational colleges.

Those of Elsenburg Agricultural College (BoH 1998), for instance, depict a plough, a garb, and a Cape anchor. Saasveld College for Foresters (DoI 1938, BoH 1966) has a tree, an axe, a spade and an open book in its arms. The Soweto Teachers Training College arms (BoH 1978) feature a trowel, an open book, and the incised heart which the Bureau of Heraldry uses as a general symbol of Soweto.

In the 1980s, though, the Bureau developed a standard pattern for technical college arms : a demi-cogwheel (with plain or trefly teeth) ensigned of a charge appropriate to the town or district.

Several dozen arms of this pattern were registered. Cape Town Technical College's arms (BoH 1986) displayed the anchor and an annulet from the Cape Town civic arms. The Technical College RSA (BoH 1984), a correspondence institution serving the whole country, had the national flower, the protea. Vanderbijlpark Technical College's arms (BoH 1984) featured the chemical symbol for iron.

Universities and technikons

Arms of some South African universities Universities : Cape Town - Durban-Westville - Orange Free State - Rand Afrikaans - South Africa - Witwatersrand.

Arms of some South African technikons Technikons : Eastern Cape - Mangosuthu - Natal - Northern Gauteng - Peninsula - SA.

Before higher education was reorganised in 2004-05, most universities and technikons (tertiary-level technical colleges), had coats of arms. Ten of those arms are still in use. In some universities, individual faculties and student residences also have their own arms.

The University of Cape Town arms (1859, CoA 1919, BoH 1992) represent the university (book and lamp) in Cape Town (anchor and mural crown) where Africa (black) meets the sea (blue). The arms of the former University of Durban-Westville (BoH 1964), which was for Indians, contained a lotus flower. The University of the OFS arms (DoI 1951) included the bugle horns from the Orange Free State provincial arms.

Rand Afrikaanse Universiteit's arms (BoH 1988) featured a stylised firesteel. An anchor and the Van Riebeeck annulets reveal the Cape Town origins of the University of SA, whose arms were granted by King Edward VII in 1903 (CoA 1904, DoI 1955, BoH 1986); the white rose represented the Duke of York who was the chancellor at the time. The University of the Witwatersrand arms (1922, DoI 1950, BoH 1970) allude to the name, which means "ridge of white waters".

Most of the technikon arms too follow no pattern, but some of those registered from 1985 onwards followed a common pattern in which the field was divided "per fess nowy of a trimount to base", and a single charge was placed in chief.

The Eastern Cape (originally 'Transkei') Technikon arms (BoH 1992), displaying an aloe plant, are an example. The curved arrows in the Technikon SA arms (BoH 1986) allude to the fact that it was a correspondence institution.

The Mangosuthu Technikon arms (BoH 1989) display a decorative pattern. Those of the Natal Technikon (1912, DoI 1938, BoH 1983) in Durban were loosely based on those of Sir Benjamin d'Urban. The Northern Gauteng (originally 'Northern Transvaal') Technikon arms (BoH 1986) feature a cogwheel. Those of the Peninsula Technikon (BoH 1973) display a sword-cum-caduceus, an anchor and a cogwheel.

Legal protection

Voluntary registration of academic coats of arms was introduced in 1935, to confirm institutions' "sole and exclusive right" to their arms. In the event of misuse, the registered owner can take legal action to obtain an interdict and/or damages plus costs.

From 1935 to 1963, arms (and many pseudo-arms) were registered as 'badges' under the Protection of Names, Uniforms & Badges Act. Since 1963, academic arms have been registered at the Bureau of Heraldry, under the Heraldry Act, provided they are heraldically correct. Details can be found on the Bureau of Heraldry Database on the National Archives website.

References :
  • Bureau of Heraldry Database.
  • Alberts, P.; 'Technikonwapens en hul simboliek' in Opvoeding en Kultuur (Jun 1991).
  • Anon.; Arms and Crests of Universities and Schools (cigarette card series) (1930s).
  • Basson, J.; 'SA Argiefwese Vier Eeufees' in Lantern (Dec 1976).
  • Brownell, F.G.; 'Symbolism in the Coats of Arms of Special Schools for the Cerebral Palsied' in Education and Culture (Jun 1978), 'Finnish Influence on South African Heraldic Design' in Arma 116 (1986).
  • Nieuwoudt, G.J.; Transvaalse Skoolwapens - 'n Heraldiese Studie (Thesis - UP) (1986).

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