The Bureau of Heraldry is the South African
heraldic authority A heraldic authority is defined as an office or institution which has been established by a reigning monarch or a government to deal with heraldry in the country concerned. It does not include private Heraldry societies, societies or enterprises wh ...
, established in
Pretoria Pretoria (; zu, ePitoli) is one of South Africa’s three Capital city, capital cities, serving as the seat of the executive branch of government, and as the host to all foreign embassies to South Africa. (Cape Town is the legislature, legisla ...
on 1 June 1963. It is headed by a State Herald (known unofficially as the National Herald since 2004) and its functions are to register arms, badges, flags and seals (as well as names and uniforms), to keep a public register, to issue registration certificates and, since 1980, to advise the government on heraldic matters. Together with the Heraldry Council, it forms part of the National Archives and Records Service (formerly called the State Archives Service), which is currently under the authority of the Minister of Arts & Culture.


Under South African law, everyone has the right to bear a
coat of arms A coat of arms is a heraldry, heraldic communication design, visual design on an escutcheon (heraldry), escutcheon (i.e., shield), surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full achievement (herald ...
as he pleases, as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others (i.e. the arms are not too similar to arms already in use by someone else) and the proposed arms conform to basic heraldic principles. The State Herald approves of and registers arms under the authority given by the Heraldry Act. This process is in substance no different from that used by the Republic of Ireland wherein the authority of the Chief Herald of Ireland is vested in the Irish government through the National Library of Ireland. The Chief Herald of Ireland is an employee of the National Library of Ireland. The College of Arms in London is a private corporation operating under the jurisdiction/authority of the Crown of England and forming part of the Royal Household. The Canadian Heraldic Authority, financed by the Canadian Government, operates under the direct supervision of the Queen of Canada via the Office of the Queen's representative, the Governor General. The Lord Lyon of Scotland has direct control of the assignation of Arms in Scotland. In addition to registering coats of arms, badges, and other heraldic representations, the Bureau keeps records of names, uniforms, and badges (which include some corporate arms) previously registered by the Department of the Interior (1935–1959) and the Department of Education, Arts & Sciences (1959–1963). Anyone, regardless of nationality or place of residence, may register arms with the Bureau. Since 1980, it has also been authorised to register the arms of official bodies in foreign countries. Originally, applications had to be approved by the Heraldry Council before the Bureau could register them, but the power of approval was delegated to the State Herald in 1969, though he can still refer applications to the Council (or, since 1980, its Heraldry Committee) when necessary. In 1980, the National Herald was authorised to delete arms from the register, either on an applicant's request or, in the case of official, municipal or corporate arms, if the organisation concerned no longer exists. Appeals against the National Herald's decisions can be made to the Heraldry Committee. In the 1970s, the Bureau registered between 60 and 90 arms and badges per year. The number increased sharply in the mid-1980s, reaching a peak of 148 in the 1987–88 reporting year. It declined in the early 1990s, and returned to 1970s levels. (These figures do not include the registrations of defence force unit arms and insignia, of which the Bureau has registered more than 1000 since the 1960s.) The illustrated
blazon In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image. The verb ''to blazon'' means to create such a description. The visual ...
s (written descriptions in technical terms) of applications for registration are published in the South African ''Government Gazette''. Blazons (but not illustrations) of arms registered at the Bureau and its predecessors up to the end of the year 2000 are available online through the National Archives website. Naturally, the Bureau itself has a coat of arms which were adopted in 1965. The blazon is ''Azure, three escutcheons Or, on a chief of the second the South African lion''. In layman's language this means that the shield is blue, it displays three smaller golden shields, and across the top is a gold horizontal strip displaying the red lion that formed the crest of the old South African national coat of arms. The Bureau arms are depicted on the seal on each registration certificate and, in the 1960s and early 1970s, they were depicted in full colour at the head of the certificate too.

National Herald and staff

The State Herald (called unofficially the National Herald since 2004) is a civil servant, and is the head of the Bureau of Heraldry, an ''ex officio'' member of the Heraldry Council, and a member of the National Archives' directorate. There have been four state/national heralds since the office was established in 1963: * Coenraad Beyers (1963–1964) * Norden Hartman (1964–1982) * Frederick Brownell (1982–2002) * Themba Mabaso (2002– ) The Bureau has a small staff complement: the National Herald, the Assistant National Herald, a Chief Heraldic Artist, a few artists, an administrative assistant, and a cleaner. The Bureau has had four homes since its inception. Since 1989 it has been housed in the National Archives building in
Pretoria Pretoria (; zu, ePitoli) is one of South Africa’s three Capital city, capital cities, serving as the seat of the executive branch of government, and as the host to all foreign embassies to South Africa. (Cape Town is the legislature, legisla ...
. Although the State Herald has been called the National Herald since 2004, the Heraldry Act has not yet been amended to reflect this change.


See also

Heraldry Heraldry () is a broad term, encompassing the design, display and study of armorial bearings (known as armory), as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology, together with the study of ceremony, rank and genealogy, pedigree. Armory, the best ...
* Heraldry Council *
South African heraldry (1882) (1899) (1910) South African heraldry dates back to the 1650s, inheriting European (especially Dutch heraldry, Dutch and English heraldry, British) heraldry, heraldic traditions. Arms are borne by individuals, official bodies, local aut ...
Canadian Heraldic Authority The Canadian Heraldic Authority (CHA; french: Autorité héraldique du Canada) is part of the Canadian honours system under the Canadian monarch, whose authority is exercised by the Governor General of Canada The governor general of Canada ...
College of Arms The College of Arms, or Heralds' College, is a royal corporation consisting of professional Officer of Arms, officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realm, Commonwealth realms. The heralds ...
(London) *
Court of the Lord Lyon The Court of the Lord Lyon (the Lyon Court) is a standing Courts of Scotland, court of law which regulates heraldry in Scotland. The Lyon Court maintains the register of grants of coat of arms, arms, known as the Public Register of All Arms and Be ...
(Scotland) *Council of Heraldry and Vexillology (Belgium) *Flemish Heraldic Council *Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland


* Heraldry Act 1962, as amended * Annual Reports of the Department of National Education * Annual Reports of the National Archives

External links

National Archives of South Africa website
{{authority control Government agencies of South Africa 1963 establishments in South Africa Government agencies established in 1963 Heraldic authorities South African heraldry