Die Stem con­tro­versy

Post - - Comment & Opinion/ 2 - Dur­ban North NARENDH GANESH

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.

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