Insight into our an­them

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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

Ra­jen­dran Goven­der

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