Written 121 years ago, South Africa’s Enoch Sontonga’s hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa) is currently one of the most powerful tunes in the history of Africa.
It became a Pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five past and post-independence countries in Africa: South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school in Johannesburg, composed the Xhosa hymn in 1897 for the school choir, which soon became popular and was performed by other choirs.
Years after his death in 1905, the African National Congress, then known as the South African Native National Congress, sang the hymn at a meeting in 1912.
The ANC later adopted the hymn as its official song in 1925, singing it as an act of defiance against the apartheid regime.
It essentially became an anthem of black struggle against oppression, despite being banned by the apartheid government.
In 1994, upon a request from the then president Nelson Mandela, a modified version of Sontonga’s hymn was combined with the previous Afrikaans national anthem, Die Stem van Suid Afrika (The Call of South Africa), that was written in 1918 by CJ Langenhoven‚ an Afrikaans poet.
This was done in conjunction with lines in several of South Africa’s other official languages, to form the country’s current national anthem.
Sontonga’s hymn, which was described as an emblem of hope and unity, changed over time as its lines were modified, added to, and translated into other languages.
Currently, the freedom song, which has been touted as one of the best in the world, has no standard versions or translations as the words vary from place to place and from occasion to occasion.
Watch South African gospel group, Soweto Gospel Choir singing the country’s national anthem below: