Die Stem controversy
A NATIONAL anthem would have been a very foreign idea were it not for the existence of a very key element – the State. Ordinarily, the word nation is used synonymously with country or state. However, it does imply more than just the existence of borders and boundaries. A plethora of factors expand the idea of a nation and its uniqueness – language, culture, traditions, history and so forth. A controversy is beginning to rear its ugly head with regards to our national anthem with Steve Hofmeyr at the centre of it. He sang Die Stem, the anthem of apartheid South Africa, at a concert. Was he being offensive or antagonistic or maybe provocative? Many will claim he was, but in a free South Africa, it is his right to do so albeit in deference to the majority view. But what is the purpose of a national anthem? Primarily, as we would like to believe, it is supposed to instill a sense of patriotism and deep nationalism among the citizens of a country. Historically, many anthems have a military basis upon which they were formed – La Marseillaise (France) being a good example. Others like the Star Spangled Banner (USA) and God Save the Queen (England) have a more nationalistic basis, but the military tie is evident. Anthems do something else that is equally important. They tell a story. The message is that there is great glory in fighting for one's country. It says that perhaps there is no greater honour than to lay aside all that you love, as your ancestors did, and fight for your country. The purpose of an anthem is not to incite a country to rise up, but to give all its people something familiar to rally behind. Whether that be a sporting event, the Olympics, or a war, it is something that many people hold as sacred and divine. It provides something of pride and national unity that gives people a sense of something larger than life. South Africa has the unique distinction in that our current national anthem combines an era of oppression and one of absolute freedom where the oppressor and the oppressed have joined hands in reconciliation. The victories in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 and most recently the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by us saw unprecedented euphoria of nationalism that transcended racial, ethnic, political, and religious backgrounds as South African stood with South African to cajole the national team to victory. For a moment nothing mattered – not even time, as we embraced the pride of a nation in one voice. It brought tears to many an eye and it meant something singing our national anthem. Whether the inclusion of Die Stem in the full version of Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica was tainted with an oppressor’s voice, did not matter – such was the power of that anthem. For a moment South Africa was a South Africa of all its people and not of the Afrikaner or the African. Our diversities, our history and the scars that many carry of the sacrifices made by our forebears, in one way or another, are encapsulated in our anthem. When Nelson Mandela ensured that the Springbok emblem was retained as a symbol of our national rugby team, he told us all that we can embrace the good with the bad, the right with the wrong, and we can find space to let bygones be bygones. When he held his hands upon his chest in statesman-like fashion whenever our anthem was played, it told us that if the father of our nation can take pride in this lyric poetry, then who are we to argue? While Steve Hofmeyr is entitled to sing Die Stem, I am certain that rational thinking will prevail and he will see that Nelson Mandela not only gave him a chance, but he gave the entire country a chance to renew a sense of national pride when we were on a route to disaster and mayhem. We have a beautiful national anthem – let’s learn it well and take pride in the symbolism it enshrines to become the patriots we should be.