Saturday, July 3, 2010

The National Anthem of South Africa

At the time that South Africa's multi-racial system of government was adopted, there were two anthems in use among the people, divided by the old racial lines. "N'kosi Sikelel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa), written and composed by Enoch Mankayi, which also has the same melody and nearly the same words as the anthems of Tanzania and Zambia, (and, formerly, Zimbabwe), was popular with the black population since it was first composed in 1897 for Mankayi's music students. The song was quickly adopted as the "people's anthem" and made the anthem of the African National Congress (ANC), a group that would become the first majority black political party to lead the country. The white South Africans, however, had been using "Die Stem van Suid Afrika" (The Call of South Africa) since the 1920s on an unofficial basis, and was made the state's official anthem in 1957. Even though the latter anthem was seen as too closely tied to the apartheid system by the majority black population, it was decided in the interim to make both anthems the national anthem, "God Bless Africa" was usually played in its entirety followed by the complete "Die Stem".

In 1997, the two anthems were combined, starting with "God Bless Africa" in Xhosa, followed by Sesotho, then a few lines of "Die Stem" in Afrikaans, and finishing the anthem with another few lines from "Die Stem" in English. (The English lines actually do not appear in the official English version of "Die Stem", but are an abridgement of the last few lines of the first verse, with the words slightly altered to reflect South Africa's new freedom.

Enoch Mankayi Sontonga (ca. 1873 - 18 April 1905) was the composer of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa), which has been part of the South African national anthem since 1994. It was also the official African National Congress (ANC) anthem since 1925 and is still the national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia. It was also sung in Zimbabwe and Namibia for many years.

Sontonga, a Xhosa, was born in the city of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Institution and subsequently attended the Methodist Mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg. He was also a choirmaster and a photographer. The first verse and chorus of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika was composed in 1897 and first sung in public in 1899 at the ordination of Reverend Boweni, a Methodist minister. Later the Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi wrote a further seven verses. The song was sung throughout South Africa by several choirs and it quickly became popular. On 8 January 1912, at the first meeting of the South African Native National Congress (the forerunner of the African National Congress), it was sung after the closing prayer. The ANC adopted it as its official closing anthem in 1925.

For many years the site of the grave of Sontonga was unknown, but it was finally located in the "Native Christian" section of the Braamfontein cemetery in the early 1990s; one of the reasons why his grave could not be found is that it was listed under "Enoch" and not "Sontonga".

On 24 September 1996, the grave of Sontonga was declared a national monument and a memorial on the site was unveiled by President Nelson Mandela. At the same ceremony the South African Order of Meritorious Service (Gold) was bestowed on Enoch Sontonga posthumously.

Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven (13 August 1873 – 15 July 1932), wrote under the pen name C.J. Langenhoven and was better known as Sagmoedige Neelsie (Gentle Neelsie) or Kerneels. He had a formidable role in South Africa's Afrikaans literature and cultural history, and was one of the young language's foremost promoters. He is best known to have written the words for the original South African Anthem Die Stem.

Langenhoven was born at Hoeko, Ladismith, Cape Colony and later moved to Oudtshoorn where he became its most famous resident. In 1897 he married the widow Lenie van Velden. They had one child, a daughter named Engela, who was born in 1901. By 1914 he became a member of parliament (first as member of The House of Assembly, and later as Senator) where he took the struggle to have Afrikaans officially recognised, to the next level. He was also a founder member of the new Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger, and a Freemason.

C.J. Langenhoven's most famous work is the original South African Anthem Die Stem which he wrote in 1918. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the South African Post Office issued a four-cent C.J. Langenhoven stamp in 1973.