The history of graphic design in South Africa

Graphic design history in South Africa

Since the early days of European colonisation in Africa, graphic design has been used as a tool to communicate messages to local populations. The use of typography, illustration and photography in advertising and propaganda materials was an effective way to disseminate information to often illiterate or semi-literate audiences.

Despite the fact that South Africa is a relatively young country, graphic design in the region has a long and vibrant history. One of the earliest examples of graphic design in South Africa is the 1835 poster advertising the emancipation of slaves.

During the apartheid era, graphic design was used by the government to communicate its racist ideology to the population. However, a number of courageous graphic designers worked to subvert these messages and create art that spoke out against the regime.

Since the end of apartheid, South African graphic designers have continued to push the boundaries of the medium, experimenting with new techniques and styles. Today, the country is home to some of the most innovative and exciting graphic design work in the world.

The history of graphic design in South Africa and When did South Africa started graphic design

The history of graphic design in South Africa is closely related to the country’s political history. It can be divided into five periods: the colonial period, the apartheid period, the transition to democracy period, the post-democratic period, and the contemporary period.

The colonial period began with the arrival of the first Europeans in the early 16th century. The Dutch East India Company established a trading post on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, and the British occupied the colony in 1795. Graphic design in South Africa was largely under the control of the British, who introduced the printing press, lithography, and other printing technologies to the colony. The first book to be published in South Africa was The Christian Glad Tidings Delivered in the Dutch and English Languages by the Rev. G.A. Ferreira in 1793.

The apartheid period began in 1948, when the South African government passed the apartheid laws, which legalized racial segregation and discrimination against black South Africans. The government also began using graphics and advertising to promote the apartheid ideology. The most iconic example is the “apartheid wall”, a series of massive concrete walls that were built between South Africa and its neighbors to keep black South Africans from entering white areas.

The transition to democracy began in 1990, when South African president F.W. de Klerk announced the government’s intention to repeal the apartheid laws. Elections were held in 1994, and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president. The transition to democracy was a time of great upheaval and change, and the country’s graphic designers were tasked with creating branding and marketing materials for the new government.

The post-democratic period has been characterized by the growth of a vibrant, independent graphic design community. South African graphic designers have won numerous awards and been commissioned to design projects all over the world. The most notable example is the “Mandela Effect”, a global awareness campaign that was designed by South African graphic designer Sello Mapheko.

Today, South African graphic designers continue to push the boundaries of their craft, and the country’s graphic design scene is vibrant and growing rapidly.


The field of graphic design in South Africa is a relatively young one, but it has a rich and varied history. Though it has faced many challenges, South African graphic designers have continued to produce innovative and groundbreaking work.


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