Corporate heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Corporate arms

MANY corporate bodies use coats of arms, though in recent years some have followed the trend towards using logos and abstract emblems for everyday purposes.

Arms are used by organisations in agriculture, commerce, industry, the cultural world, and freemasonry ; in the medical world ; by orders of chivalry and by a few political parties, professional associations, sporting bodies, and youth organisations.

Agriculture, commerce and industry

Various agricultural unions and societies, banks and building societies, insurance companies, mining houses, chambers of commerce and industry, and electricity and water utilities have coats of arms.

Some South African corporate arms Agriculture, commerce and industry : SAAU - Land Bank - Standard Bank - Southern Life - Goldfields SA - Mines Rescue Service.

The earliest corporate coat of arms to be used in South Africa was that of the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC), which governed the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope from 1652 to 1795. Most current corporate arms date from the 20th century.

Agriculture is represented here by the arms of the SA Agricultural Union (BoH 1970) and the Land & Agricultural Bank (BoH 1974), which are clearly related in their "sunlight and water" theme.

The Land Bank also belongs to the financial services sector, along with the canting arms of the Standard Bank (CoA 1955, BoH 1963), and the less obvious arms of the Southern Life Association (BoH 1967). The latter were based on those of the Dutch town of Westervoort, which was the name of the Cape Town property where the company's head office was situated at the time.

Among the few examples of heraldry in the mining sector are the arms of Goldfields SA (1920s?, BoH 1964) and the Mines Rescue Service (BoH 2002).

Some South African corporate arms Pietermaritzburg CCI - Union Airways - Safmarine - Eskom - Mhlatuze Water - Rand Water.

Commerce and industry in general are represented in the arms of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce & Industry arms (BoH 1996), which depict the stars from the Pietermaritzburg civic arms, gold coins (commerce) and a bee (industry).

Heraldry is little used in the transport industry, but examples can be found in the arms of the country's first commercial airline, Union Airways (c1929), and the SA Marine Corporation ('Safmarine') arms (CoA 1960, BoH 1967). The latter were based on a device which the company had used since the late 1940s.

Utility companies with clearly allusive arms are the Electricity Supply Commission ('Eskom') (1962, BoH 1966), the Mhlatuze Water Board (BoH 1992), and the Rand Water Board (BoH 1970).

Several wineries use coats of arms as their corporate identity symbols. Some use those of their proprietors (although, technically, a corporation is a separate entity from its owners and should have its own arms). Others display the arms of the co-operatives to which they belong, and some use pseudo-arms which, probably, were designed as trademarks.

Cultural institutions and societies

Many cultural institutions and societies have coats of arms.

Arms of South African cultural institutions Cultural institutions : ATKV - National Cultural History & Open-Air Museum - SA Akademie - SABC - SA Museum - Simon van der Stel Found'n.

The Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging ('Afrikaans Language and Cultural Association') arms (DoI 1952) display an ox-wagon and the SA Railways' winged wheel emblem. A single wagon wheel, and a Cape Dutch gable, make up the design of the National Cultural History & Open-Air Museum arms (BoH 1983).

The SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns ('SA Academy for Science and Art') arms (BoH 1984) feature Minerva (the Roman goddess of wisdom), quill pens (humanities and science), and shields (the four provinces).

The SA Broadcasting Corporation arms (CoA 1958, BoH 1964) symbolise education and progress (the winged torch), and day (gold) and night (black) broadcasting.

Those of the SA Museum (BoH 1973) and the Simon van der Stel Foundation (1963, BoH 1977) are derivative. The former are based on the Cape Province arms, the charges on the chief being three colophon beetles. The latter are based on the arms of 17th-century Cape governor Simon van der Stel.

Arms of South African cultural societies Cultural societies : 1 Historical Ass'n - 2 Natal Society - 3 Pretoria Philatelic Society - 4 SA Military History Society.

The Historical Association of SA (BoH 1990) chose quill pens and a Cape Dutch gable, while the Natal Society arms (BoH 1987) feature an open book and an uncommon line of partition.

Some special-interest societies have arms. Those of the Pretoria Philatelic Society (BoH 1999) depict bees from the Pretoria civic arms, and a chief "engrailed and couped" which suggests postage stamp perforations. The SA Military History Society arms (BoH 1970) suggest that "the pen is mightier than the sword" (in this case, two pens).


South African masonic arms Freemasons : Grand Lodge of SA - UGLE Western - UGLS Transvaal OFS & Northern Cape.

Four constitutions or orders – Netherlandic, English, Scottish, and Irish – are active in South Africa. Each has its own heraldic customs, though general masonic symbols such as the compasses and square are common to all.

In the Grand Lodge of South Africa (formerly the South African branch of the Netherlands freemasons), the grand lodge itself bears a coat of arms (BoH 1973), and the five provincial grand lodges have their own arms, or pseudo-armorial devices.

In the English masonic order, some of the districts bear the arms of the parent United Grand Lodge of England, differenced by means of bordures. The bordure of the Western Division bears charges from the Cape Province arms. Many lodges use coats of arms.

In the Scottish order, at least three of the four districts use coats of arms. The Provincial Grand Lodge of the Transvaal, OFS & Northern Cape arms (BoH 1987), for instance, depict a lion, a wavy fess, and a protea, impaled with the arms of the parent Grand Lodge of Scotland.

In the Irish order, the provincial grand lodges appear to use the parent Grand Lodge of Ireland arms. At least one individual lodge – Hibernia, in Durban – has its own arms, depicting an Irish harp.


The medical profession makes wide use of heraldry. Many South African hospitals, colleges, professional associations, and other bodies in or related to medicine, have adopted coats of arms over the years, though some have since sidelined them in favour of logos.

Some South African medical coats of arms Medicine : College of Medicine - Democratic Nursing Org'n - Medical Ass'n - SA Medical & Dental Council - SA Medical Research Council - SA Noodhulpliga.

Traditional symbols of healing and nursing, such as the rod of Aesculapius, the ankh (a.k.a. 'ansate cross'), and the lamp, are popular choices as charges. Murrey (maroon) has become popular as a colour, perhaps because of its long-standing use by military medical services.

The rod of Aesculapius appears in the arms of the College of Medicine of SA (CoA 1958, BoH 1966), the Medical Association of SA (BoH 1971), and the SA Medical & Dental Council (BoH 1979). The arms of the SA Noodhulpliga (BoH 1964) display a variation, in which two serpents are entwined around a flaming torch (an Afrikaner nationalist symbol).

Ansate crosses are found in the College of Medicine arms and those of the SA Medical Research Council (BoH 1971). The latter were also the first to feature the DNA double helix.

The lamp, a symbol of nursing, can be found in the arms of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (BoH 1999) and the Medical & Dental Council.

Some South African hospital coats of arms Hospitals : Groote Schuur - Johannesburg - Kalafong - Welkom Provincial.

Hospital arms often include allusions to the towns and communities which they serve.

Groote Schuur Hospital's (BoH 1986), for instance depict wheatsheaves, referring to the original Groote Schuur, which was a granary.

Johannesburg Hospital's arms (BoH 1980) include a battery stamp from the Johannesburg civic arms, while Kalafong Hospital's (BoH 1980) have a bee from the Pretoria civic arms.

Welkom Provincial Hospital's arms (BoH 1965) included a mine headgear.

Orders of chivalry

Arms of orders of chivalry Orders : St John - St Lazarus (Grand Bailiwick) - St Lazarus (UGP) - Blessed Gérard.

Three independent orders of chivalry have branches in South Africa.

The Priory for South Africa of the (British) Order of St John of Jerusalem uses the arms of the parent order (1926, BoH 1966).

The two separate branches of the Order of St Lazarus use differenced versions of the arms of the parent order. The Grand Bailiwick of the English Tongue's arms (LL 1967, BoH 1992) are differenced with a protea flower, while those of the United Grand Priories are differenced with a springbok's head.

The Brotherhood of the Blessed Gérard, a division of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, uses arms belonging to the parent order (BoH 2001).

In the Orders of St John and of St Lazarus, knights of the grand cross class are allowed to place the arms of the order, in the form of a chief, on their personal arms, and they are also allowed supporters.

Political parties

Afrikander Bond arms Afrikander Bond.

Political parties in South Africa generally use pictorial emblems or logos, but occasionally they assume arms. The earliest example was the Afrikander Bond, which was formed in 1879. Its arms featured stripes in the colours of the British and Boer republican flags, together with the Cape anchor and the initials of the organisation.

A number of parties have flags, some of which are registered at the Bureau of Heraldry. You'll find a detailed discussion and illustrations on the Flags of the World website.

Professional associations

Arms of some professional associations Professional : Acoustics - Bankers - Chartered Accountants - Chartered Secretaries - Town Clerks - Teachers.

Many professional institutes and associations have coats of arms. A few, which are branches of British institutes, bear the arms of their parent bodies (and have, in some cases, registered them), but most of the arms appear to be original South African designs.

The symbolism of many of the arms is quite clear : a sine wave for the SA Acoustics Institute (BoH 1978) ; gold coins for the Institute of Bankers of SA (BoH 1967) and SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (BoH 1980) arms ; and quill pens for the SAICA, Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators (BoH 1973), and Institute of Town Clerks (BoH 1977) arms. The principal charge in the latter is a town clerk's wig.

The National Professional Teachers Association of SA arms (BoH 1996) feature shepherds crooks (which the Bureau uses to represent teachers) and a protea (the national flower).

Arms of some professional associations Building Societies - Estate Agents - Real Estate Economists - Civil Engineers.

Symbols of building and property can be found in the arms of the Building Societies Institute of SA (BoH 1982), the Institute of Estate Agents of SA (1939, DoI 1950), and the SA Institute of Real Estate Economists (BoH 1976). The latter were the first arms to use the "gably" line of partition devised by the Bureau of Heraldry.

The annulets in the arms of the SA Institute of Civil Engineers (BoH 1966) allude to the institute's Cape Town origins.


Some South African sporting arms Sport : Badminton Free State - Jukskei SA - National Sports Council - Orlando Pirates - Transvaal RFU - Vaal Rowing Club.

Many sports clubs and associations use coats of arms. In some cases, several bodies in the same region share arms. Those used by Badminton Free State, for instance, are or were also used by the province's pistol shooting association.

Green and gold have been the national sporting colours since 1906. At first, they applied only to rugby, but they were later extended to other sports. They can be seen in the arms of Jukskei SA (BoH 1998), which depict two crossed yoke-skeys and a protea flower, and those of the National Sports Council (BoH 1994), which also display the flower.

Some sports clubs use the municipal coats of arms of their home towns, one uses the arms of a London borough, another those of a British peer. Others are more original : the design of Orlando Pirates Football Club (BoH 1973) is self-explanatory.

The Transvaal Rugby Football Union uses (or used) a variation of the former South African Republic arms (1929, DoI 1936). These arms are or were also used by the province's practical shooting association.

The Vaal Rowing Club arms (BoH 1966) depict crossed oars.

Many sailing and yachting clubs have registered burgees or pennants. You'll find a selection on the Flags of the World website.

Youth organisations

Arms of South African youth organisations Youth organisations : Girl Guides Cape West - TS Lanherne - Stellenbosch Voortrekkers.

Youth organisations such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Sea Cadets, and the Voortrekkerbeweging (the Afrikaner equivalent of the scouts and guides), make extensive use of badges. To a lesser extent, some of them also use coats of arms.

The Western Cape division of the Girl Guides, for instance, uses arms depicting the figure of Hope (on a lozenge, seeing that it's a females-only organisation). They are identical to the Cape Province quarter of the former national arms.

Each of the sea cadet 'training ships' has a naval-style ship's badge, displayed in a circular frame of cable ensigned with a nameplate and a naval crown. An example is the badge of TS Lanherne in Port Elizabeth, which depicts three trees.

A few Voortrekker 'commandos' (equivalent to boy scout or girl guide 'troops') use arms. Those of the Stellenbosch Voortrekkerkommando (BoH 1965) allude to the town's nickname of "town of oaks", and include a tower from the municipal arms.

Legal protection

Voluntary registration of corporate coats of arms was introduced in 1935, to confirm owners' "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 were registered as 'badges' under the Protection of Names, Uniforms & Badges Act, and heraldic correctness was not required. Since 1963, corporate arms have been registered at the Bureau of Heraldry, under the Heraldry Act, but only if they are heraldically correct. Details can be found on the Bureau of Heraldry Database on the National Archives website.

References :
  • Anon.; 'College of Arms accepts SA practice' in Arma 141 (1993).
  • Bureau of Heraldry Database.
  • Girl Guides.
  • Priory of the Order of St John; Annual Report.
  • SA Sea Cadets website.
  • United Grand Priories of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem; The Hospitaller (Mar 2004).

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