The Giant Flag on Graaff Reinet’s outskirts

Posted by on April 28, 2015

Graaff Reinet viewed from the Valley of Desolation

Graaff Reinet, 4th oldest town in South Africa, viewed from the Valley of Desolation

Artist impression

Artist impression

Giant Flag project was born based on the vision of creating a real-world embodiment of the values of the South African Flag, a sustainable legacy that would enhance skills, employment, tourism, education and awareness for environmental protection and climate change.  Guy Lieberman, whose brainchild it is, said that the project had massive potential to shift economic realities for the Camdeboo Municipality.  The project is the first initiative of the newly formed tourism troika between Proudly South African, the International Marketing Council and South African Tourism.  Construction of the flag commenced this year and completion is expected in 2016.

The Giant Flag is a legacy project of vast proportions, a celebration of the spirit of South Africa and her people. The 66-hectare flag  will be made up of 2.5 million coloured desert plants  and a four megawatt solar panel field.  The white part  will be a road.

Effectively viewable from space and the size of 66 soccer fields, The Giant Flag will not only claim its place as a natural wonder, but also as a new model of economic stimulus for previously disadvantaged communities. Job creation, clean energy and tourism come together in a world first green innovation project that’s making change happen in South Africa!

The planting phase, an 18-month undertaking that requires the cultivation and relocation of a staggering 2.5 million cacti and succulents, will provide employment for 700 locals. The task of growing the cacti and succulents has fallen on Anton Bouwer, the owner of Obesa Nursery, one of the largest cacti and succulent nurseries on earth. Around 2.5 million plants are needed to complete the flag – and as much as 4 million if a buffer is built around it.

Components of the Flag


The Plants

Ferocactus (fer-oh-KAK-tus) photo: Anton Bouwer

Ferocactus (fer-oh-KAK-tus)
photo: Anton Bouwer

Mexican Fire Barrel (Ferocactus) will be used for the red. This ferocactus is known for its brilliant red bloom that appears brighter when wet. The spines provide shade and redirects rain water, making it extremely drought-tolerant and perfect for the Karoo.

Portulacaria afra (por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh)

Portulacaria afra

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) will be used for the green. This indigenous succulent has an exceptional ability to soak up CO². It can capture 4 tons of carbon a year per hectare!

Agave isthmensis 'Blue Dan' (a-GAH-vee ist MEN-sis) Photo: Anton Bouwer

Agave isthmensis ‘Blue Dan’
(a-GAH-vee    ist-MEN-sis)
Photo: Anton Bouwer

Blue Butterfly (Agave isthmensis ‘Blue Dan’) will be used for the blue. This plant has a distinctive blue-grey hue and its ability to grow in dry environments makes it an effective bio-energy crop. It’s called “Blue Dan” in honour of ethnobotanist, Dan Lieberman, who died in a car accident on the outskirts of Graaff-Reinet.

Echinocactus grusonii (ek-in-oh-KAK-tus groo-SON-ee-eye)   Photo: Anton Bouwer

Echinocactus grusonii
(ek-in-oh-KAK-tus    groo-SON-ee-eye)
Photo: Anton Bouwer

Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) will be used for the yellow. Also known as Mother in Law’s Cushion, it is a popular plant used in modern landscaping. While it prefers sunny spots, it can survive long periods of time in the dark.

Solar Panels

This is the “heart” of the flag. This solar field will have the ability to provide power to 4000 homes. One third of the solar field will also serve as a canopy for a tourism precinct, comprising a conference venue, boutique guest lodge, rental space for micro enterprise development, training facilities and commercial space, including the parking.

This will be the first commercial scale solar field to harvest rainwater that will be channeled to an underground reservoir, in order to ensure that the Giant Flag is water independent.

The 4 MW of power to be generated by the project will be sold to the local municipality and Montego Foods.

White Road

This is where you get to experience the Giant Flag up close. This white pathway, forming the backbone of the site, allows you to tour the various sections of our Giant Flag.


The total cost of this project will be about R180-million, which has been broken up into three phases:

• Phase 1 is complete and cost R4-million;

• Phase 2 is under way at a cost of about R5-million; and

• Phase 3 – the build phase – will cost about R170-million.

Funds have been conditionally committed from various institutions, including government and private. Additional funds will be sourced from a crowd-funding initiative, which has been  launched.



Visit the largest cacti and succulent nursery in the world, Obesa Nursery, 49 Murray Street, Graaff Reinet  ~  049 8922120

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  1. Absolute madness to let loose Cactus in the Karoo. We already have more than enough problems with invader plants in this country. In my opinion the Dept Nature Conservation is neglecting its duty by allowing this scheme to go ahead.

  2. I have commented on this project elsewhere and may be ruffling a few feathers! BUT do we really and truly want or need such a huge area covered with alien cactus which are a scourge on farms and elsewhere. If the whole thing was to be planted with indigenous and local plants, maybe yes. But even then to clear that large an area of natural vegetation and effectively eradicate the animals, insects etc etc. which live there now, is not something that should be allowed or encouraged. Then also the nursery growing the cactus is of course planning to make a huge amount of money on the alien plants which they sell to people who are taking part as donors in the project! I am just saying what I personally think, but many other people feel the same way I can assure you!

    • I agree about the removal of natural vegetation which will certainly have an affect on insect and other wild life in the area. We’ve just had legislation published about invasive alien species, sad to note that in 1983 we had 198 invasive species according to CARA legislation, in 2014 379 species were declared invasive according to the NEMBA legislation. The cactus that are used for the project is not on the list, but who knows what will happen in twenty of less years? The cactus species that are used do not appear on the Sterile Cultivars & Hybrids Register either, what I would like to know is where did the seed come from and did they get the relevant import permits?
      I’ve posted the article with the intention to make people aware of the project, I share the same concerns as you.

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