Fred Brownell – A Short Biography

Fred Brownell joined the Department of Immigration on 2 January 1962 as an Administrative Officer. His responsibilities included a tour of duty as Assistant Attache (Immigration) and Consul to the South African Embassy in London between 1965 and 1969.

He then joined the Department of National Education, and later the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology as Assistant State Herald in the Bureau of Heraldry on 1 August 1977. He was promoted to State Herald on 1 May 1982 and retired from that position in 2002.

Brownell designed many coats of arms, badges and flags, including the arms and the flag of Namibia in 1990. In 1993/1994, he designed the current South African flag, with a three-armed converging cross of the sort called a pall in heraldry, to symbolise the convergence of different cultures into one for the future South Africa. He later designed arms for the new provincial governments in South Africa. He was awarded the Order for Meritorious Service by President Nelson Mandela in 1999 for his role in the design of the South African flag and the Vexillon Award for excellence in the promotion of vexillology in 1995 and 2015, the only recipient to have won it twice. He also published many articles and several books on heraldry and flags. In addition, he was involved in the field of honours and awards.

Shortly after his retirement Brownell and his wife, Christine, moved to the Newlands Park retirement home, south east of Pretoria. He continued to be an active member of the Southern African Vexillological Association and completed the SAVA Journal series on South African Military Colours (1664 to 26 April 1994). Furthermore, in September 2015 he was awarded the degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (D.Phil) in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria for a dissertation entitled Convergence and Unification: The National Flag of South Africa (1994) in Historical Perspective.

Following a short illness, he passed away on 10 May 2019 at his home, surrounded by his family.


The fascinating story behind the South African flag and how Fred came up with the design is featured in our book Flying with Pride.


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