Orange Free State
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Civic heraldry of South Africa
ORANGE FREE STATE - ORANJE VRIJSTAAT
Incorporated into : 1994 Free State
The Orange Free State was the successor of the Orange River Colony. The new province received the above arms on 4 May 1911.
In an article in Die Volkstem of 5 April 1930 an article appeared by Charles Berry on the tree in the arms. It was the start of a very heated and long debate. He argued that the tree was not an orange tree, but an ordinary tree as a symbol of freedom.
In 1934 A Kieser argued in a lengthy article that the tree was a wild olive. The wild olive he argued, has the typical umbrella-like shape as seen in the republic's arms. Also the tree was very common in the area. The old arms also did no show any oranges, indicating at least that it was not meant to be an orange tree.
Not everybody agreed that the shape was typical for the wild olive, and mimosa and kameeldoorn trees were also mentioned as the species by later authors.
In 1856 the Orange Free State Official Guide mentions a letter in which the president of the Oranje Vrijstaat asked in 1855 for a wild olive in the seal. The guide, however, does not mention any source for this statement.
In the same year H.M. Friede argues, again in a long article, that the tree is unspecified and that it is an old symbol of freedom. His main argument is the word Vryheid (freedom) above the tree.
Kieser also made a point of the wording of a report in De Express newspaper from 6 June 1893, in which a tree-planting ceremony was described. The report stated that the President and the chairman of the parliament each planted a wild olive tree. Between brackets the words ons oude symbolische boom (our old symbolic tree) were added. Kieser argued that these were the President's words, but they were in fact an editorial note.
Amidst all confusion, the provincial government decided in 1937 to use the arms of the Oranje Vrijstaat as the official arms of the province. It was refused by the Secretary of the Interior, stating that the official provincial arms (i.e. the orange tree) were to be used. The provincial government argued that the orange tree was an appropriate symbol in the national arms, but not as provincial arms. These statement also resulted in a long discussion on the right to use the arms. Neither side compromised, so the provincial government started to use the old arms on 3 September 1937. Twenty years later (!) the arms were finally recorded by the College of Arms and another 10 years passed before the South African Bureau of Heraldry registered the arms below.
In 1946 the debate on the tree was started again by the provincial government to replace the orange tree in the national arms by a wild olive tree. The national government, however, did not want to change the tree.
When the provincial arms were finally registered in 1955 both trees were in official use. In 1961 South Africa became a true republic and the government decided to have a closer look at the national symbols. The government applied to several heraldic experts to give their opinion on the arms, and on the tree. The experts agreed that the orange tree was an appropriate symbol and they also agreed that the original tree was a symbol of freedom, not a wild olive tree. One of the experts, Cornelis Pama, also argued that if the tree is just a symbol of freedom, it can be any type of tree, with or without fruits ! So the situation remained, with a wild olive tree and an orange tree, both as symbols of freedom...
The arms of the Orange Free State were used until 1994, when the new provinces were created.
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Literature : Brownell, 1993