Today we mark the 120th anniversary of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, composed by Enoch Sontonga. On this day, in 1905, Sontonga died at the age of 32 leaving a revolutionary African melody behind that continued to live over a century beyond his age, mobilising millions of southern Africans into the struggle against colonial oppression.
The EFF celebrates Sontonga who, 120 years ago, composed the first two stanzas of the now well-known Nkosi Sikelela. We therefore mark the 120th anniversary of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika whose central message is to mobilise our people to be patriotic to the African continent through a genuine prayer about its condition to God.
We celebrate that this song united African people beyond the immediate borders of the successive colonial regimes. It is therefore a powerful pan-African symbol and song, not about the whites-only South Africa imagined by the union of the Boer and British Republics whose borders were ultimately consolidated in 1910. The Africa of Songtonga imagines the whole continent and its people as one in prayer.
Nkosi Sikelela is a call for blessings for the continent and its people. It is an existential plea at the end of the 19th century to a God who seemed deaf to the African cry and blind to its suffering. Hence the call that God may hear our prayers: essentially a prayer to bless Africa, to save it and to dwell in it with his Holy Spirit. At this stage the African was faced with what would be a long cold night of humiliation and suffering at the feet of European conquest and colonisation.
The anniversary of the death of Sontonga must be a call through Nkosi Sikelela itself to recommit ourselves to Africa’s blessing; to Sontonga’s dream of a blessed Africa. We must ask; are the lives of Africans blessed, 120 years after the composition and cry of Sontonga? Can we say that the spirit of the Holy one, the King of Peace, is resident in the continent and wherever her people are found across the globe?
It is a fact that the continent continues to be one with poverty, war and suffering. It is a fact that African people, wherever they are in the world, live on their knees at the feet of one conquerer to another. The African, although she has gifted the world with song and music, she continues to belong to the image of a hated and despised race.
The anniversary of Nkosi Sikelela and that of Sontogna’s death must recommit us to seek a blessed Africa. The prayer and dream of Songtonga was an African in which the Holy Spirit is a resident and its people are blessed, living in peace with each other and with the continent.
The EFF believes that the prayer of Sontonga’s Africa will be achieved through the realisation of Economic Freedom in our lifetime. We believe that Africa’s blessing, peace and her stability will be attained when her lands and minerals begin to work, not for the exploitative multinationals, but for all her people.
We further call on the government, in recognition of Sontonga, to delete Die Stem from South Africa’s official Anthem. The inclusion of Die Stem is not only an adulteration of Sontonga’s prayer, but it is as though Nkosi Sikelela is only made complete by adding what were considered European languages to it. Yet, Die Stem is a symbol of a regime Sontonga was praying against, and whose idea of Africa contradicted that of Sontonga’s with violence to the humanity of Africans. Die Stem must fall and make way for what had become the liberation struggle anthem, adopted not only by South Africa, but Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe as an official anthem after independence.
This means each time we sing Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica we join in Pan-African unity and spirit way beyond our borders. Through Nkosi Sikelela, Sontonga invented one African voice that should never be adulterated, suppressed or obliterated. He joined us in an imagination of our identity as one with the entire continent and its people across the world. Let us honour him and the many generations who died singing this song in 1976, and in many other years confronting a brutal murderous white minority regime.
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica, May God Bless Africa.
Ndlozi writes as the spokesperson of the EFF. His views do not necessarily represent those of The Citizen.