Insight into our anthem
AS WE observe Heritage Month and Heritage Day, it is important to gain an insight into our national symbols.
A country’s symbols – seal, motto, flag, anthem, coat of arms and natural symbols – tell its story and plays a crucial role in building pride and a sense of belonging.
South Africa’s national symbols are rich in heritage and tell stories of the country’s abundant natural and cultural diversity.
National anthems, national flags and national symbols are often used as official patriotic symbols.
The main reason a national anthem is sung is to inculcate nationalism and patriotism towards one’s country.
The South African national anthem tells us that South Africa is a diverse nation and there are differences in culture, traditions, religion and languages, but despite these differences, it reminds us that South Africa is united under one flag and one anthem.
The anthem is significant in uniting people and reminding us there is no difference between us.
Recently, the South African national anthem was translated into Indian vernacular languages – Tamil, Hindi and Telugu.
These translated versions are often performed at cultural functions and the audience is expected to stand, while these versions are performed. This is grossly incorrect. The issue with having the national anthem sung in different languages is that it does not promote reconciliation, but rather encourages ethnicities to grow separately.
As a South African nation we can only unite by singing one national anthem.
As of now, the government cannot and must not have the national anthem sung in different languages as this will blatantly violate the constitution.
There is only one national anthem and that is Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
The government adopted both songs, Die Stem and Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, as national anthems in 1994 when they were performed at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration.
They were merged in 1997 to form the current anthem.
The new English lyrics were adapted from the last four lines of the first stanza of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika/The Call of South Africa, with the changes made to reflect hope in post-apartheid South African society.
In terms of Section 4 of the Constitution of South Africa, (Act 108 of 1996) and following a proclamation in the Government Gazette No 18341, a shortened, combined version of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and The Call of South Africa was proclaimed as the National Anthem of South Africa.
In the world today, virtually every country has some sort of unique identity.
Whether part of another larger group or an independent state, nations always maintain a piece of themselves to separate them from the wider world. However, during the past 300 years, when a country did gain its freedom or independence, one of the first things established was a national anthem.
A national anthem is arguably one of the most important aspects of a country’s independent status and it is the umbrella under which the country can rally and be proud.
National anthems have truly only one purpose, to instil patriotism and nationalism in citizens during a time of need.
This time of need can range anywhere from a sporting event, to a need for national mobilisation to a call for war.
Yet to understand how a short song can bring a country together, it is necessary to understand the anthems and how they came to be.
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika is a poem written by CJ Langenhoven in May 1918, while Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist mission schoolteacher.
It was first sung as a church hymn but later became an act of political defiance against the apartheid government.
The national anthem is played or sung at various occasions. From government offices to schools and colleges, sports and cultural events the national anthem is sung at special occasions or national holidays.
The national anthem must be respected and proper observance and decorum maintained when it is played on such occasions.
All inhabitants are required to stand to attention – with their hands placed at their sides – while singing the national anthem.
Placement of the right palm on the heart is only reserved for the president.
People are urged not to move around, hold conversations or even blow vuvuzelas during the anthems.
A “national song” on the other hand usually has no official declaration behind it; it is simply one that is extremely well-known and loved by citizens of the country.
In South Africa, Shosholoza is a popular song that is sung at many sporting and cultural events.
It is a Ndebele folk song that originated in what is now Zimbabwe, but was popularised in South Africa. It was sung by Ndebele all-male migrant workers who were working in local mines in a call and response style. The song is very popular in South African culture.
In India the national anthem is Jana Gana Mana. It was composed in Bengali by poet Rabindranath Tagore.
The Hindi version was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India as the National Anthem on January 24,1950.
However, in 1950 (after India’s independence), the two verses of the song Vande Mataram were declared the “national song” of the Republic of India, distinct from the national anthem of India.
Rajendran Govender is a social anthropologist and cultural researcher