Enoch Sontonga, 1897
Enoch Sontonga, 1897
1961 (Tanzania) 1963 (Transkei) 1994 (South Africa)
"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ([ŋkʼɔsi sikʼɛlɛl‿iafrikʼa], "Lord Bless Africa") is a hymn originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg. The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. The song is currently the national anthem of Tanzania and, since 1994, a portion of the national anthem of South Africa.
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika was originally composed as a hymn in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg. He based the melody on the hymn tune 'Aberystwyth' by Joseph Parry. The words of the first stanza and chorus were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas were added by the poet Samuel Mqhayi. Sontonga originally composed the hymn in B-flat major with a four-part harmony supporting a repetitive melody characteristic of "both Western hymn composition and indigenous South African melodies." The hymn became popular in South African churches and was taken up by the choir of Ohlange High School, whose co-founder served as the first president of the South African Native National Congress. It was sung to close the Congress meeting in 1912, and by 1925 it had become the official closing anthem of the organisation, now known as the African National Congress. "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was first published in 1927. The song was the official anthem for the African National Congress during the apartheid era and was a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. For decades during the apartheid regime it was considered by many to be the unofficial national anthem of South Africa, representing the suffering of the oppressed. Because of its connection to the ANC, the song was banned by the regime during the apartheid era.
In 1994 after the fall of apartheid, the new President of South Africa Nelson Mandela declared that both "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" and the previous national anthem, "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" ("The Call of South Africa") would be national anthems. While the inclusion of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" celebrated the newfound freedom of many South Africans, the fact that "Die Stem" was also kept as an anthem even after the fall of apartheid, signified to all that the new government under Mandela respected all races and cultures and that an all-inclusive new era was dawning upon South Africa. In 1996, a shortened, combined version of the two anthems was released as the new national anthem of South Africa under the constitution of South Africa. The anthem uses several of the official languages of South Africa. The first two lines of the first stanza are sung in Xhosa and the last two in Zulu. The second stanza is sung in Sesotho. The third stanza consists of a section of the original South African national anthem, Die Stem van Suid-Afrika, and is sung in Afrikaans. The fourth and final stanza, sung in English, is also based on Die Stem van Suid-Afrika.
A Swahili version of the hymn (Mungu ibariki Afrika) is the national anthem of Tanzania.
The hymn was the national anthem of Zambia from independence in 1964 until 1973 when the lyrics were replaced by Stand and Sing of Zambia, Proud and Free set to the same hymn tune of Aberystwyth.
'Ishe Komborera Africa' was the Zimbabwean version of 'God Bless Africa' sung in the Shona and Ndebele languages and was its first national anthem, adopted after the country gained independence in 1980.
It was replaced in 1994 by Kalibusiswe Ilizwe leZimbabwe (Blessed be the land of Zimbabwe), but still remains very popular in the country.
"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was used provisionally as the national anthem of Namibia at time of the country's independence in March 1990. But soon after, an official contest was organised for a new national anthem. It was won by Axali Doeseb, who wrote "Namibia, Land of the Brave" which was officially adopted on the first anniversary of the country's independence on 21 March 1990.
Other countries and organisations
In other African countries throughout southern Africa, the song was sung as part of the anti-colonial movements. It includes versions in Chichewa (Malawi and Zambia). Outside of Africa, the hymn is perhaps best known as the long-time (since 1925) anthem of the African National Congress (ANC), as a result of the global anti-Apartheid Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was regularly sung at meetings and other events.
In Finland the same melody is used as the children's psalm "Kuule, Isä taivaan, pyyntö tää" (Hear, Heavenly Father). The hymn has appeared in Virsikirja, the hymnbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, with lyrics by Jaakko Löytty.
Solomon Plaatje, one of South Africa's greatest writers and a founding member of the ANC, was the first to have the song recorded in London, 1923. A Sotho version was published in 1942 by Moses Mphahlele. Rev. John Langalibalele Dube's Ohlange Zulu Choir popularised the hymn at concerts in Johannesburg, and it became a popular church hymn that was also adopted as the anthem at political meetings.
In Kenya, Mang'u High School uses a translation, Mungu Ibariki Mang'u High, as its school anthem.
It has also been recorded by Paul Simon and Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Boom Shaka, Osibisa, Oliver Mtukudzi (the Shona version that was once the anthem of Zimbabwe) and the Mahotella Queens. Boom Shaka, a prominent South African kwaito group,formed the anthem in kwaito style, a popular South African genre influenced by house music. The interpretation was controversial, and it was viewed by some as a commercial subversion of the anthem; Boom Shaka counter by stating that their version represents liberation and introduces the song to younger listeners.
South African Idols-winner Elvis Blue recorded an Afrikaans translation of the song with Afrikaans singer Coenie de Villiers entitled "Seëngebed" ("Lord's Blessing") on his 3rd studio album "Afrikaans".