N is for N’Kosi Sikelel iAfrika

This entry is part 16 of the series Out of Africa

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South Africa is famous for many “firsts” but I wonder how many people know how this applies to our National Anthem. Our official anthem, Nkosi Sikilel iAfrica is the only neo-modal national anthem in the world, that is it ends in a different key to where it begins. It is also a mult-language anthem.

The national anthem of a country is normally sung in the language used by most of the people of the nation. The South African anthem developed along with the history of the nation as follows:

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  • 1897: a Methodist school teacher by the name of Enoch Sontonga composed a hymn in Zulu, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. This was first sung in churches, but later became used as an act of political defiance against the apartheid government.
  • 1918: South African poet, C.J.Langenhoven, wrote an Afrikaans poem called, Die Stem (The Call).
  •  1921: Rev. Marthinus Lourens de Villiers set the song to music.
  • 1936: Die Stem can Suid-Afrika became the co-anthem with God Save the King/Queen.
  • 1942: Nkosi Simelel’ iAfrika was published in Sesotho by Moses Mphahlele.
  • 1957: Die Stem became the sole national anthem.
  •  1994: The S.African government adopted both Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and Die Stem as the national anthems, and they were both performed at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
  • 1997: All of these were merged to form the current anthem. New English lyrics were adapted from the last four lines on the first verse of Die Stem and part of the Sesotho version was included.
  • The result is a stirring anthem sung in the five languages of  Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. After you’ve read the words below, listen to the song.
Language Lyrics English translation
Xhosa Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo
God bless Africa
Let its (Africa’s) horn be raised
Zulu Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
Listen also to our prayers,
Lord bless us, we are the family of it (Africa).
Sesotho Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa, South Afrika, South Afrika
Lord bless our nation,
Stop wars and sufferings,
Save it, save our nation,
The nation of South Africa, South Africa.
Afrikaans Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
From the blue of our skies,
From the depth of our sea,
Over our everlasting mountains,
Where the echoing crags resound.
English Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.

Click here to listen to this magnificent anthem (less than 2 minutes).

About Shirley

Shirley Corder is an author who writes to inspire and encourage. She has a passion for helping other writers and cancer survivors.