Was adding ‘Die Stem’ to ‘Nkosi Sikelela’ too much of a compromise?
By Zuko Komisa
The varying views about ‘Die Stem’ and ‘Nkosi sikeleli Afrika’ offer a worrying perspective. In a country that still grapples with continued challenges of poverty, inequality and racism; is it still relevant to have ‘Die Stem’ as part of our national anthem?
On this day 120 years ago was the death of a prolific composer of our national anthem. Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, who left the world with a powerful melody that still echoes in the hearts of a million Africans. Sontonga was a poet who occasionally preached in church and had a love for music. He was also a choirmaster, which made sense as the original verses for the song where meant for his school choir. Composed in 1897, Nkosi sikelela became a sensation. By 1925, 27 years after it was composed, it had become the official song of the African National Congress (ANC).
A fascinating African story that is still a heated topic of discussion in the South African context, due the subsequent inclusion of the ‘Die Stem’ when it was adopted as the official anthem in 1994. A new era of the country’s history, were both black and white sang this song with their fists held high and the hand in the heart. The song is a call for God to bless Africa during a period where it seemed that the prayers of Africans fell on deaf ears.
‘Die Stem’ on the other hand has been widely regarded as a violent song used by an oppressive regime as a ritual of war and domination. An early adaptation of the song was an affirmation to kill and die to protect the then murderous state.
Does the inclusion of ‘Die Stem’ solve the problem of social cohesion? Does it send mixed messages to the almighty? Does this patriotic musical prayer need to be amended to maintain its innocence?
The Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) have been fighting for the scrapping of ‘Die Stem’ ever since formed as a political party, to an extent of not wanting it sang in any of their gatherings. Today they reiterated their call in a statement they sent:
“The inclusion of the stem in not only an adulteration of Sontonga’s prayer, but it is though Nkosi sikelela is made only complete by adding what were considered as European languages to it.”
With the purpose of a national anthem being to eulogize the history, traditions and struggles of the nation, the EFF argues that Sontonga invented one African voice that should never be adulterated, suppressed or obliterated. They also continues to say “‘Die Stem’ must fall and make way to what has become a liberation struggle anthem not only in South Africa, but in Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe, an official anthem of independence. “
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