The design process was initiated when, in 1999, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology requested ideas for the new coat-of-arms from the public. A brief was then prepared based on the ideas received, along with input from the Cabinet. The Government Communication and Information System then approached Design South Africa to brief ten of the top designers. Three designers were chosen to present their concepts to the Cabinet. Iaan Bekker’s design was chosen.
The new arms were introduced on Freedom Day, 27 April 2000. The change reflected government’s aim to highlight the democratic change in South Africa and a new sense of patriotism.
The coat of arms is a series of elements organised in distinct symmetric egg-like or oval shapes placed on top of one another. The completed structure of the coat of arms combines the lower and higher oval shape in a symbol of infinity. The path that connects the lower edge of the scroll, through the lines of the tusks, with the horizon above and the sun rising at the top, forms the shape of the cosmic egg from which the secretary bird rises. In the symbolic sense, this is the implied rebirth of the spirit of the great and heroic nation of South Africa.
The coat of arms is also a central part of the Seal of the Republic, traditionally considered to be the highest emblem of the State. Absolute authority is given to every document with an impression of the Seal of the Republic on it, as this means that it has been approved by the President of South Africa. Since 1997, however, the use of the Seal of the Republic has not actually been required by the Constitution, but it continues to be used.
The arms has been criticized by some for being more the work of a “design studio” than “real” heraldry.