The best national anthem in the world

Cover of MandelaAll over the world, at this time of mourning for the passing of Nelson Mandela, people will be thirsty for information about this great man. Some will read the many books, maybe take out a DVD or two, or watch tv for documentaries.

But I will listen to music.

I’ll start with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) who spent years in exile because of his political beliefs. Then maybe I’ll indulge in a little resistance music from my CDs – the best came from rebellious young Afrikaans men. Next I’ll lighten up with some Paul Simon gems from Graceland and kick back with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and their wonderful harmonies.

But I will always build up to South Africa’s National Anthem: Nkosi SikeleliAfrika (God Bless Africa). Here is a version of it. Written by a schoolteacher for a church hymn competition which he won in 1897, later  the singing of it became an act of political defiance against Apartheid and finally it was incorporated with Die Stem and sung at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. South Africa has eleven official languages and five of them are represented in this anthem: Xhosa at the start, followed by Zulu, then the completely different sounding Sotho. After that Afrikaans and finally English.

You are certain to hear it in this week of mourning for Mandela. When I hear it I am taken right back to all the occasions when it was sung at the Zulu College at which I lectured. Everyone stands. There is a small silence. Hand on heart, Black Power salute from some of the men. Then the singing begins – in five languages, sometimes in two-part harmony, the softer female voices answered by the powerful bass of the men: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God bless Africa.

Every nation loves its own national anthem, I know that. But for  me this is the best one in the world. Indulge me just this one week, because for all its poverty, corruption, droughts and AIDS problems, God did bless Africa. He sent us Nelson Mandela.

8 thoughts on “The best national anthem in the world

  1. CharlieBean 10 December 2013 / 3:04 pm

    What a poignant context for reflecting on one of the most influential people the world has seen for a long time. The fact that he is so well thought of reflects values that people across the world hold dear; human rights, equality, political freedom… He embodies qualities of courage, strength in the face of adversity, commitment and more; things that we all admire. This time of grieving is also one of celebration as we are given an opportunity to recognise the same in others grieving alongside us. Thanks!
    I listened to your national anthem – which by the way is the first time – and the solemnity of this performance is still relevant on this sad day.

    • robertafsmith 10 December 2013 / 3:52 pm

      I listened to it again, from this link, when I got home. Really loud this time. Miriam Makeba sang out for Woodend. Is there no end to the many ways in which I can make myself cry.

  2. jane 10 December 2013 / 3:49 pm

    I agree Roberta, it is THE Best anthem, the tune alone is enough to set the heart stirring but the words and history make it so much more than a great piece of music. Thanks for this post.

    • robertafsmith 10 December 2013 / 4:44 pm

      What is a National Anthem if it cannot reduce you to tears of longing! Glad you appreciated it.

  3. Gallivanta 10 December 2013 / 7:13 pm

    It is a wonderful national anthem.

    • robertafsmith 12 December 2013 / 9:31 am

      This is so uplifting, well worth the listen!

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