& Elizabeth Amagola
WINDHOEK – Namibia, rich in mineral resources and cultural diversity, friendly people and its beautiful landscape is identified by its national flag, which was adopted at independence in 1990.
The country had just emerged out of its protracted liberation struggle, which stretched over many decades with horrendous war inflicted on its people by the then South African apartheid regime and German colonialists. It needed its own identity as a sovereign and independent Namibia.
The Constituent Assembly, which became the National Assembly of Namibia upon independence in March 1990, had limited time, actually a few months to ensure that with the birth of the new nation on March 21, 1990 comes an identity. Apart from the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, a new nation needed a national anthem, a coat of arms and a national flag as part of its identity and national symbols.
The National Symbols Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly which was tasked with the responsibility of coming up with the national flag made a national call to patriotic Namibians to design a national flag, of course with no promise of payment in return but to do it as patriotic citizens and to contribute to the building of the new nation.
A total of 870 entries were received by the National Symbols Sub-Committee for the national flag. Initially six designs were selected and subsequently trimmed to only three designs. Afterwards, three designs, those of Theo Jankowski of Rehoboth, Don Stevenson of Windhoek and Ortrud Clay of Lüderitz were integrated to form the Namibia national flag, which was unanimously adopted by the Constituent Assembly on February 2, 1990. The abovementioned designers were publicly announced as the designers of the Namibia national flag at the ceremony chaired by the late Judge Hans Berker on March 9, 1990.
“I went to New York after Namibia got independent in 1990, and our flag was there flying among the flags of the world at the United Nations Building. It was a touchy and emotional moment and I felt proud to have been part of the designers of this very important national symbol,” says Theo Jankowski.
Born in 1951 in Rehoboth, Jankowski is a teacher by profession who holds a BA degree from the University of South Africa (UNISA), a Master’s degree from the University of Namibia, and is also a former CEO of the Rehoboth Town Council.
Jankowski got interested in designing the national flag when the design competition was announced early 1990. “In the competition, people were encouraged to participate as patriotic Namibians to design a national flag and I was eager to contribute towards nation-building of the new nation and wanted to be part of the Namibian history.”
His design consisted of colours blue, red, green and white with three stars. “My motto was reaching for the stars. The first three colours were from the Swapo party flag and the white colour signified peace, stars signified hope and yellow signified a better future,” he said.
Jankowski felt special when he was informed that his design was one of the chosen ones. Although the media was there when Jankowski and others were informed about their selected designs, no coverage was done afterwards. “There was nothing in the newspapers and television. I got a national flag as a token of appreciation which I still have and which I am very proud of. In fact, it is kept in a very safe place and I am very proud of it. It is a heritage and I will leave it for my family after I’m no more around.”
As an activist and participant in the activities of the liberation struggle inside the country, Jankowski endured harassment and torture by the then apartheid regime. “The struggle was long and bitter and at times we had hopes for a free Namibia and sometimes our hopes diminished. However, we became very hopeful after the meeting we had with the late Hidipo Hamutenya, Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, Nangolo Mbumba and President Sam Nujoma in 1989 in Zambia, where we were told to go and organise ourselves for the independence of Namibia and we were very happy that Namibia will be free.”
Finally the day arrived and it was all clear that Namibia will be free. Although the night of Namibia’s independence on March 21, 1990 was a very special moment for the Namibian people, Jankowski got very emotional seeing the national flag being hoisted for the first time.
Another designer of the national flag, Don Stevenson, is an American citizen living in Namibia for 37 years. Born and raised in New York City, Stevenson met his German-Namibian wife in Germany when he was sent to advance and pioneer the Baha’i faith in 1972. They came back to Namibia in 1981 with their two daughters and have been living in Namibia ever since.
Stevenson, 71, is a designer by profession who worked for various advertising agencies and opened his own advertising and public relations company in Windhoek before independence. He has lectured at the institutions of high learning in the country.
“When I got the news of the design of the Namibian flag invitation I fell in love with this competition and wanted to participate in this national call and contribute to the building of the new nation. I took two weeks leave just to concentrate on the flag design. I submitted 13 entries and my designs stood out since I approached them from a professional point of view,” said Stevenson.
He was inspired by the desire to make Namibia home for his family and to be part of the history as well as the desire to make a contribution to the world’s new nation.
The basis of his flag designs was the Swapo colours since historically countries getting independent always take the colours of the liberation movement. “I was inspired by Canada and Japan flags since they are incredibly simple and one saying in advertising is ‘less is more’.
Japan has a sun inside so I thought that Africa has a sun, why can’t I use the sun. All my submissions had images of the sun. The white signifies unity and is the functional separator of colours,” said Stevenson.
For Stevenson, the relationship with the national flag is personal. “When I look at the flag, I feel excited since my wish has been achieved. The national flag and other national symbols need to be respected as they are a clear identity of our nation and these should form part of the school curriculum,” he said.
The only woman among the designers of the Namibian flag is Ortrud Clay. She was born in 1941 and raised in Windhoek. A student of the Convent of the Holy Cross School in Windhoek, and a Stellenbosch matriculant, Clay holds a Commercial Teacher’s Diploma from Cape Technikon in South Africa. She taught in Cape Town for a couple of years, then at St Paul’s College in Windhoek and is currently staying in Lüderitz.
She got involved in the Namibia flag design when she saw her husband busy sketching and did not know what he was drawing. Clay asked her husband what he was doing and he told her that he was busy drafting flag designs for Namibia. She got interested and grabbed a scrap of paper and started designing the Namibian flag. She designed and wrote the name of the segments for the artistic shop assistant to do a full-colour version.
Clay chose colour blue which signifies the riches of our sea and faithfulness to our country, white which signifies peace and a new and prosperous future for all, red for the love of the country, and green for our country’s mineral and agricultural wealth, which also symbolise hope for a bright and united future.
Together with the other two designers, Clay received an official acknowledgement in writing and a replica flag at the ceremony chaired by the late Judge Berker on March 9, 1990. Clay, 77, is happy that she contributed towards the nation’s identity via the design of the national flag and that people are proud of the flag.
“I am very proud when I see the national flag. I am delighted beyond words that it has been so warmly received, and liked as well as loved by all Namibians and so many others, and so honoured by our sporting and other heroes and representatives over the years since that day,” she said.
Although the country has been independent for over 28 years, the Namibian people do not know who the real designers of the national flag are. There has been claims in the media of some people claiming to be the designers of the flag. One such case is the articles in one of the local daily newspapers, in which it was reported that Roy Allen, a UK citizen who lived in Namibia between the 1978 and 1982, is the person who designed the Namibian flag and the same information is also reflected on Wikipedia. Subsequent to that article, the same newspaper published another article in which three Namibians, namely, Don Stevenson of Windhoek, Theo Jankowski of Rehoboth and Ortrud Clay of Lüderitz refuted the claims and stated that they were the actual designers of the flag.
These three designers expressed their disappointment that media reports have identified someone else as the designer of the national flag while they are the real designers.
“The nation at large does not know who the real designers of the national flag are, but someone else is claiming to have designed the flag. I am unhappy about that and I want history to be corrected. We don’t know the agenda and the reason why the person is claiming what rightfully belongs to others,” Jankowski said.
Clay also expressed her disappointment that someone else is claiming what rightfully does not belong to him. “It is sad that someone’s spurious claims are misleading, but it is only right that a correct record is established and promoted for posterity. To those who will reveal the truth and circulate it wherever relevant, I and the other contributors to our national symbols will be deeply grateful,” she said.
Upon enquiry, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana, indicated that after an article appeared in the local newspapers the ministry took a deliberate decision to do a thorough research in order to find out who the designers of the national flag are and set the record straight.
“We perused through our archives and found documents attesting to what the three Namibians claimed. Our investigation into the matter confirmed that the designs of Mr Don Stevenson, Mr Theo Jankowski and Mrs Ortrud Clay were combined to come up with the Namibia flag,” he said.
“It came to the ministry’s attention that there are some online publications stating that other people are the designers of the Namibia national flag. The ministry will therefore do anything within its power to correct these misleading publications,” he said.
“It is critical that these patriotic Namibians receive their due recognition and praise for their good national contribution while they still enjoy life in the Land of the Brave,” Ua-Ndjarakana added.
* Herman Kangootui and Elizabeth Amagola are both chief information officers in the MICT.