Municipal heraldry
November 2006 / November 2018

Municipal arms

MUNICIPAL (or 'civic') heraldry was introduced in South Africa in 1804. Hundreds of city, town, village and district authority coats of arms have been created since then.

As a result of the 1995-2000 local government reforms, most of them are now obsolete, and since 2002 a new generation of municipal arms has been developing to take their place. They reflect the government imperative to bring heraldry into line with the 'African Renaissance'.

Until the late 1940s, the standard of municipal heraldry was fairly low. It began to improve thanks to Ivan Mitford-Barberton and, later, the Heraldry Society of Southern Africa too, who designed or re-designed many arms in the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s. Since the 1960s, the Bureau of Heraldry has guided the development of municipal heraldry.

Cities and towns

Most local authorities are towns or cities. Their coats of arms typically consist of shield, crest, and motto. Until the 1980s, there was evidently no hard and fast rule about supporters, with the result that some cities had them and others didn't, and even some small rural towns had them. Nowadays, usually only metropolitan councils have supporters.

Arms of some South African municipalities 1 Cities & towns : Amahlathi - Monnakato - Thaba Chweu - Centurion - Midrand - Windhoek

The selection of city and town arms on this page illustrate several design themes, namely landscapes, allusions to founders or namesakes, canting designs, agriculture and industry, and history.

At one time, landscapes were often depicted pictorially rather than heraldically. More stylised, heraldically correct, designs include the arms of Amahlati (BoH 2004), Monnakato (BoH 1993), and Thaba Chweu (BoH 2007).

The fountain in the Centurion (formerly 'Verwoerdburg') arms (BoH 1997) is a landmark in the town. Midrand's arms (BoH 1982) indicated the town's central location on the Witwatersrand. Windhoek's arms (by 1929, SWA 1966) feature local vegetation, namely an aloe.

Arms of some South African municipalities 2 Beaufort West - Cape Town - Oudtshoorn - Stellenbosch.

Arms of some South African municipalities 3 Benoni - Durban - Grahamstown - Port Elizabeth - Bloemfontein - Pietermaritzburg.

A number of arms allude to the towns' founders or namesakes. In the Western Cape, for instance, there are the arms of Beaufort West (1860, CPA 1967) depicting the Duke of Beaufort's portcullis crest ; Cape Town (1894, CoA 1899, CPA 1956), which include Jan van Riebeeck's arms ; Oudtshoorn (CoA 1960, CPA 1961), based on the Van Reede arms ; and Stellenbosch (CoA 1952, BoH 1979), derived from Simon van der Stel's arms.

The arms of Benoni (CoA 1938, TPA 1966) in Gauteng include the Duke of Bedford's escallops. Those of Durban (1882, NPA 1951, BoH 1979) in KwaZulu-Natal quarter the supposed arms of Sir Benjamin d'Urban with those of Sir Benjamin Pine.

In the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown's arms (CoA 1950, BoH 1993) combine elements of the Graham of Fintry arms and Jan van Riebeeck's, while Port Elizabeth's (1878, CoA 1958, CPA 1959, BoH 1986) are based on Sir Rufane Donkin's.

Canting designs can be found, such as the cornucopias disgorging flowers and water in the Bloemfontein arms (1882, OFSPA 1966) and the elephant in the Pietermaritzburg arms (CoA 1961, BoH 1973). The latter refers to the Zulu name for the area, which means "place of the elephant".

Arms of some South African municipalities 4 East London - Nelspruit - Polokwane - Johannesburg (1) - Johannesburg (2) - Westonaria.

Arms of some South African municipalities 5 Kimberley - Kriel - Kroonstad - Sasolburg - Pretoria - Lüderitz.

Symbols of agriculture, commerce and industry are popular choices. Sheep, bulls, bunches of grapes, sheaves of wheat, gold coins, spades and pickaxes, and mine headgear can be found in many arms, past and present.

Agriculture is represented in the arms of East London (1892, CoA 1959, CPA 1960), Nelspruit (BoH 1979), and Polokwane (formerly 'Pietersburg') (BoH 2003).

The gold-mining industry is represented in the former arms of Johannesburg (CoA 1907, TPA 1951) and Westonaria (BoH 1978). Gold is also a tincture in Johannesburg's current arms (BoH 1997), but the design as a whole no longer alludes to mining. The lozenge in the former Kimberley arms (1880s, BoH 1964) represented diamond mining ; the other charges were taken from the Cape Colony arms and the Union Jack.

Kriel's arms (BoH 1990) suggested stylised cooling towers and electrical current ; the town is the site of a major power station.

Kroonstad (1905, OFSPA 1967) is an important railway junction, hence the locomotive in its arms.

Sasolburg's arms (OFSPA 1962, BoH 1973) contained symbols of science and technology ; the town is the home of the state's oil-from-coal refinery.

The bees in the Pretoria arms (CoA 1907, TPA 1953, BoH 1989) refer to industry in general.

Both history and industry inspired the arms of Lüderitz (BoH 1971) in the former South West Africa : the padrao refers to 15th-century Portuguese explorers, and the diamond to mining.

Arms of some South African municipalities 6 Homeland capitals : Bhisho - Mmabatho - Mthatha - Ulundi.

The capitals of four of the former Black 'homelands' had arms. Those of Bhisho (BoH 1991) depicted the Ciskei's blue crane emblem.

Mmabatho's arms (BoH 1986) featured the leopard's head from the Bophuthatswana flag. The arms of the Transkei capital, Mthatha ('Umtata') dated from 1906, and were based on the Cape Colony arms.

Those of the KwaZulu capital Ulundi (BoH 1997), which was later the joint capital of KwaZulu-Natal for a few years, depicted a Zulu shield, elephant tusks, cane-cutting knives, and a cogwheel.

Divisional councils

Arms of some South African divisional councils Divisional councils : Cape - Dias - Gordonia - Worcester.

A similar variety can be found among the arms of the divisional councils (rural authorities which existed only in the Cape Province). Symbols of public works, agriculture, and nature conservation appeared in the Cape divisional council's arms (CPA 1968).

Those of the Dias divisional council (BoH 1979) alluded to 15th-century Portuguese explorer Bartolommeo Dias.

The design of the Gordonia divisional council's arms (CPA 1968) was inspired by waterfalls and viticulture.

Worcester divisional council's arms (BoH 1974) featured a stylised W. The allusion became obsolete when the division was renamed 'Matroosberg' a few years later.

Black local authorities

Arms of some Black local authorities BLAs : Masinyusane - Moemaneng - Ratanda - Soweto.

Around a quarter of the 262 local authorities which were established in the 1970s and '80s to administer the Black residential townships on the fringes of the (then-White) municipalities, had arms. Some, like those of Masinyusane (BoH 1989), Moemaneng (BoH 1987) and Ratanda (BoH 1990) were geometrical patterns suggesting hills or African huts.

The Soweto arms (BoH 1980) were more complex, containing spears representing its nine principal traditional communities, a cogwheel for industry, and an incised heart.

These authorities were abolished in the local government reforms of the mid-1990s.

Regional services councils / district municipalities

Arms of some South African regional services councils RSCs : Northern Free State - Rustenburg-Marico - Thukela - Western Cape.

Arms of some South African district municipalities District municipalities : Amajuba - Ehlanzeni - Kgalagadi - Sekhukune.

The arms of the regional services councils (forerunners of the present district municipalities) also show a variety of themes.

Those of the Northern Free State (BoH 1991) reflect coal-mining. Those of Rustenburg-Marico (BoH 1991) denote agriculture and platinum-mining. The Thukela arms (BoH 1992) suggest the Thukela (Tugela) river flowing through the green hills of Natal, while the Western Cape RSC arms (BoH 1988) contain a Cape Dutch gable and a bunch of grapes.

While some district municipalities have taken over their predecessors' arms, a few have registered new arms.

Amajuba's (BoH 2004), for instance, have a landscape theme and are also canting (the name means "hill of doves"). The rising sun in the Ehlanzeni arms (BoH 2002) places the district in the eastern part of the country. Kgalagadi (formerly 'Kalahari')'s arms (BoH 2002) refer to iron ore mining, while Sekhukhune's (BoH 2007) suggest a landscape, platinum mining, and farming.

Mural crowns

Mural crowns have been used in South African municipal heraldry since at least 1898. They are sometimes used as charges in arms, but most of them are found above the shield, or as part of the crest.

In addition to the English-style mural crown found in pre-1960s arms, there are nine South African patterns:

  1. Mural crown (c1969) - highly stylised, and used for only a few years;
  2. Mural crown (1970s) - the basic pattern, resembling the mural crowns of Napoleonic-era heraldry in France; it may be of a colour or a metal;
  3. Mural crown with three towers issuant (1988) - used for regional services council arms; the crown is always metal;
  4. Mural crown (1980s) - used for town committees, town boards, health committees, and other small authorities; it was always in a colour;
  5. Mural crown of huts (1992) - used for local area council arms; it was in colour or metal, with doors of contrasting tincture;
  6. Mural crown with spearheads issuant (1993) - used for urban council arms in Bophuthatswana; it was always metal;
  7. Mural crown (1996) - used for transitional authorities during the first phase (1996-2000) of local government reorganisation; it differed from the standard pattern by being encircled by a coloured band;
  8. Rustic mural crown (2002) - similar in shape to the basic mural crown, but the central section is silver with a blue bar across it and the upper and base sections are stonework rather than masonry; it can be in metal or a colour;
  9. Mural crown with palisades (2002) - used with the new generation of municipal arms; it is metal, with a brickwork pattern;
  10. Rustic mural crown with wooden palisades (2002) - a low mural crown of stonework, with palisades of wooden stakes issuing upwards from the battlements and embrasures; the crown is usually brown.

The new (2002-pattern) mural crowns are not linked to specific classes of municipality.

Legal protection

Voluntary registration of municipal arms, to protect them against unauthorised use, was introduced in 1949. Until 1963, it was on a provincial basis, from 1963 to 1969 it was jointly provincial and national, and since 1969 it has been national only. It's an offence to use a registered municipal coat of arms without authority, and an offender can be prosecuted and fined, or else be sued for damages.

Between 1949 and 1969, a local authority could register its 'sole and exclusive right' to its arms by publishing an illustration and description in the Official Gazette of the province in which it was situated. This system was introduced in Natal in 1949, in the Transvaal in 1951, and in the Orange Free State and the Cape Province in 1953. Around 250 arms, and a few pseudo-arms and non-armorial devices, were registered under this system.

Since 1963, arms have been registered at the Bureau of Heraldry, under the Heraldry Act, and protection applies throughout the country. From 1963 to 1969, with Heraldry Council approval, the arms could be granted by the provincial administrator by means of a notice in the provincial Gazette, before they were registered.

Since 1969, municipal arms have been registered in the same way as other arms, i.e. the Bureau gazettes the application for objections before registering the arms and issuing a certificate.

Details of coats of arms registered up to 2006 are available on the Bureau of Heraldry Database on the National Archives website.

References :
  • Anon; South African Coats of Arms (1931) (cigarette card series) ; Mobil Golden Coats of Arms Collection (1980).
  • Bureau of Heraldry Database.
  • Dawes, M.; 'Ons Dorpe en Stede Spog met Vals Wapens' in Huisgenoot (26 Oct 1951)
  • Mitford-Barberton, I.G.; 'Heraldry and the Municipality' in SA Municipal Magazine (Jul 1956).
  • Ploeger, J.; 'Onze Gemeentewapens' in Nieuws uit Zuid-Afrika (Feb 1968 - Nov 1975).
  • Smith, C. de J.; SA Munisipale Wapens (1997) (D. Phil Thesis).

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