South Africa’s national anthem

It’s one tune that Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille, Hashim Amla, Jean de Villiers, and Julius Malema all know the words to. It pulls together two anthems, five languages – and more than 49-million people. South Africans, take ownership of your song!

Flag anthem
Before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, the country had two anthems – an official and an unofficial one. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Read the anthem:

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

Translation

The isiXhosa and isiZulu of the first stanza, the Sesotho of the second stanza and the Afrikaans of the third stanza translate into English as follows:

Lord, bless Africa

May her spirit rise high up

Hear thou our prayers

Lord bless us.

Lord, bless Africa
Banish wars and strife
Lord, bless our nation
Of South Africa.

Ringing out from our blue heavens
From our deep seas breaking round
Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound .

History: two anthems into one

Before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, the country had two anthems – an official and an unofficial one. The official anthem was Die Stem, in English The Call of South Africa. The unofficial anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, was a symbol of independence and resistance to apartheid, sung by the majority of the population and at all anti-apartheid rallies and gatherings.

In the official anthem of the new South Africa, the two anthems merge into one.

Die Stem van Suid Afrika (The Call of South Africa)

Die Stem van Suid Afrika was originally a poem, written by CJ Langenhoven in May 1918. The music was composed by the Reverend ML de Villiers in 1921. At the time, the South African Broadcasting Corporation played both God save the King and Die Stem to close their daily radio broadcasts, and so the public became familiar with the Afrikaans anthem.

Die Stem was first sung publicly at the official hoisting of the national flag in Cape Town on 31 May 1928, but it was not until 2 May 1957 that the government accepted it as the official national anthem. In 1962 the English version, The Call of South Africa, was accepted for official use.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

Nkosi was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist mission school teacher. The words of the first stanza were originally written in isiXhosa as a hymn. Seven additional stanzas in isiXhoza were later added by the poet Samuel Mqhayi. A Sesotho version was published by Moses Mphahlele in 1942.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was popularised at concerts held in Johannesburg by Reverend JL Dube’s Ohlange Zulu Choir. It became a popular church hymn that was later adopted as an anthem at political meetings, sung as an act of defiance.

The first stanza is generally sung in isiXhosa or isiZulu, followed by the Sesotho version. Apparently there is no standard version or translations of Nkosi, and the words may vary from place to place and from occasion to occasion.

Reviewed November 2015

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