In the two decades since apartheid, South Africa has struggled to come together as the “rainbow nation” depicted on its famous flag. Following the death of Nelson Mandela, it continues to be divided along racial and tribal lines, and by an unequal economy.
So, the idea of building a huge flag in the desert to celebrate the country makes sense. South Africa has reason to worry about its ability to stay together.
The Giant Flag project plans to spread 2.5 million succulent plants in the desert region of Camdeboo, in the Eastern Cape. The red, green, blue and yellow will all be living, while the black will come from a 4MW solar field, and the white will be roads. In total, the flag will be the size of 66 football fields.
Guy Lieberman, who heads the FCB South Africa advertising group, came up with the idea following the 2010 World Cup (which was staged in the country). He says he was thinking of ways of keep a sense of patriotism alive when all the players and fans had gone home.
But the project is about more than nation-building. Lieberman expects the flag to create 700 permanent jobs and boost tourism in the area (it already has some because the phenomenal Valley of Desolation in the area). Camdeboo has 40% unemployment and is known for high income inequality.
Lieberman expects the project to cost $20 million, with the majority of that coming from crowd-funding. To contribute, go to the site here and choose a patch of color. Once you’ve “adopted” a plant, you’ll be a sent GPS coordinates allowing you to track your particular area. You can also write in a message of support.
Lieberman hopes to meet the upfront cost through philanthropy (several foundations and companies, like Google, are contributing), and then he plans for the project to be self-sustaining. One third of the solar field will be a raised canopy covering a guest lodge, conference center, and enterprise hub. Revenues from the solar power will go towards an endowment for the nearby population.
If Giant Flag reaches an initial goal of $2 million, it will begin germinating the plants at a nursery two miles from the site early next year. Lieberman hopes to open the flag to visitors in 2017.