Two New National Anthems.
- Reminiscence 4 by Richard Cock -
Many of us have discovered this clearing-out bug over the lockdown…I certainly have, which is what brings me to my next reminiscence.
When John Badminton arrived at Bishops in 1966 as the new Director of Music, one of the jobs he had to do was to take over Claude Brown’s enormous collection of music and books which had built up over the 30 years of teaching at Bishops. Music teaching had moved on, and musical tastes had altered, so it was a major job to do some clearing out. I was around when this clearing out in Founders House took place, particularly in Doc Brown’s old teaching room in Founders, up the steps in the corner near the dining hall: piles of music, magazines, blank manuscript paper, and indeed old manuscripts. Being a bit of a hoarder I collected some of the material which was being dumped, just because it looked interesting, and for sure it was!
Most of it was eventually returned to the archives at Bishops: manuscripts of John Joubert (OD) including the Te Deum
he had written for the school for the Centenary in 1949; a hand-written copy of Torches
, his most famous carol, which even John Joubert did not know existed here; also some manuscripts of John Rose (OD), and several other items of interest. One of the manuscripts had been torn up, and so I did not return it with the other artefacts, and I recently re-discovered the pieces when I turned out a box of old music at home. I decided to repair it. It turned out to be a song written by a Dr JG Meiring Beck with words by CE Viljoen. I thought maybe there was some connection with the Viljoen family who taught Afrikaans at Bishops for many years. However this was long before their connection to the school. I then saw in rather faint writing right across a fold in the paper. It says: S.Af.New National Anthem Competition 1st Prize.
Now this really piqued my interest, for reasons which will become apparent. Also on the cover, which for some reason is upside down to all the other music on the paper, is written “Frank Reid, from Dr Sir JG Meiring Beck (in his own hand) At Die Oude Drosty, Tulbagh 1909.” Indeed on investigation this proved to be Frank Reid’s distinctive handwriting and with the particular colour of ink that he used.
I am not sure what the Bishops connection is other than that it was given to Frank Reid in 1909, but after discussion with Paul Murray, the Archivist at Bishops, it would seem that Dr Beck, Jan Smuts, Gordon Sprigg (the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony four times between 1878 and 1904) and others were perhaps looking forward to the time when the Union of the four provinces would be formed, and a new anthem would be needed.
The words, found below, are in Dutch and English. The authorship of the translation into English is not clear. In the manuscript, the changes in the English are made in Dr Beck’s hand suggesting that he himself might have been translating it and made changes as he progressed. The words are definitely about reconciliation, and a new united country trying to put the divisions of the Boer War behind it. I cannot imagine that everyone at that time would agree with the climactic last lines, “Thy riches are unlimited, Thy sons and daughters wise, With loyal hearts will render thee, Great Britain’s proudest prize”. Can you imagine many of the people for whom this was intended singing that line with any enthusiasm?? The recent war was still fresh in people’s minds and there was a long way to go to true reconciliation. And it is just about the two nations who were on opposing sides during the war… the rest of the Southern African population are reduced to “the savage hordes”... a phrase which, apart from being inappropriate, did not face the realities of the bigger picture.
Jump now to 1995, when I was approached to be on the National Anthem committee for the provision of an appropriate National Anthem for the newly democratic South Africa.
From September 1989 I had been the co-Director, with Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, of the Sowetan Nation Building Massed Choir Festival
, which we had set up in the preceding 9 months. I had first been approached by Rory Wilson (OD), who was at that time the General Manager of the Sowetan newspaper, which was edited by Aggrey Klaaste. Bear in mind that South Africa was in great turmoil at the time, and the late 1980s was the time when black protest was met with extreme violence from the apartheid regime. The country was going up in flames. It had been Aggrey’s dream to set up a broad and all-encompassing Nation Building programme based on a non-racial concept, to rebuild the community structures which had been destroyed by apartheid. He himself came from a family with a strong choral tradition - Aggrey’s father had been a choirmaster - and he felt that choral music was a wonderful way to unite people. He was absolutely right and from the very beginning the festival was a great success. The first Nation Building Massed Choir Festival was so successful that it became an annual event which ran for the following 20 years.
At the Festival in 1990 we sang the African National Anthem at the Massed Choir Festival – the original version of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
, by Enoch Sontonga. This was the anthem of the ANC, and I have a feeling that according to the laws at the time it was illegal to sing this piece, so it’s quite interesting to look at a section of the note which Professor Khumalo produced for that year’s prescribed music book (a collection of the songs to be performed and then distributed to all the participating choirs): ABOVE: An extract from the note written by Professor JSM Khumalo published on the back page of the Nation Building Massed Choir Festival Music book 1990.
ABOVE: Front cover of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, reproduced in the front facing page of the Nation Building Massed Choir Festival Music book 1990.
After 1994, Professor Khumalo, a bit like Dr JG Meiring Beck, realized that leading into a new era would mean that we needed a new National Anthem, and he had already been turning this over in his mind (see the note in his handwriting above) when he and I were approached to serve on the National Anthem Committee. By the time of the first meeting, I think he had already worked out the structure of the whole thing in his head. He felt it needed to represent the different language and cultural groups in South Africa. One of the committee members (I think Dr Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph) had suggested new wording for the English section which included the line ‘Let us live and die
for freedom’. Prof (as Mzilikazi was affectionately called by almost everyone who knew him) strongly objected to this, saying that there had been enough dying. Similarly the word “fight
for freedom” was also dismissed as being too aggressive. I eventually suggested the word ‘strive’ in place of the word ‘die’, which was accepted by the committee. So, with some changes in the wording, it was a relatively simple process to come up with the final version. Professor Khumalo pointed out that the text included the four main language groups in South Africa: Nguni, seSotho, English and Afrikaans. He sang it to the cabinet once it had been finalized by the committee, and I clearly remember his returning after that episode and telling us how cabinet had cheered and applauded. He was quite emotional as he told us this.
This is the National Anthem which we still sing today, and although the attribution is ‘The National Anthem Committee’, structurally it was, I believe, Professor Khumalo’s work.
The premiere performance of the new National Anthem was at the Sowetan Nation Building Massed Choir Festival in September 1996, more than a year before it was officially gazetted.
From the interest generated by the use of the African National Anthem and the development of a new National Anthem for South Africa, a committee was established to try to find the grave of the late Enoch Sontonga. This committee again included Professor Khumalo and myself. Its location was eventually found in Braamfontein Cemetery. At a ceremony on Heritage Day, 24 September 1996, a monument was unveiled to Enoch Sontonga and two choirs, The Soweto Songsters and The SABC Chamber Choir, sang the various versions of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
which had developed over the years, including what is now the South African National Anthem, along with other traditional African songs. The National Symphony Orchestra and the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble accompanied the choirs. We were all astonished that at the end of the ceremony at which President Nelson Mandela spoke, he shook the hand of every single person present.
I am proud to have been part of the history of our National Anthem, and what is amazing is that it has been voted one of the most popular National Anthems in the world. There have been several attempts to change it or come up with a new one, but it has remained surprisingly resilient. It is inclusive, linguistically wide-ranging, very singable and, most importantly perhaps, stirring. And it really is something which brings our nation together…there is a wonderful version which was put together during the period of lockdown in 2020, with over 1000 South African voices recorded remotely and then edited together. So for some inspiration (for it is an inspiring anthem!) listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyl-xeeN2fQ
Richard Cock (O:1966, PM:1967)