South African National Anthem – History and Translation

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

 

 

Since 1997, the South African national anthem has been a hybrid song combining new English lyrics with extracts of the hymn “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and the former anthem “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (The Call of South Africa). The fact that it shifts and ends in a different key, a feature it shares with the Italian national anthem, makes it compositionally unusual. The lyrics employ the five most widely spoken of South Africa’s eleven official languages – Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza) and English (final stanza).

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist school teacher. It was originally sung as a church hymn but later became an act of political defiance against the apartheid government. Die Stem van Suid-Afrika is a poem written by C.J. Langenhoven in 1918 and was set to music by the Reverend Marthinus Lourens de Villiers in 1921. Die Stem was the co-national anthem with God Save the King/Queen from 1936 to 1957, when it became the sole national anthem until 1995. The South African government under Nelson Mandela adopted both songs as national anthems from 1995 until they were merged in 1997 to form the current anthem.

Translation

The isiXhosa and isiZulu of the first stanza, the Sesotho of the second stanza and the Afrikaans of the third stanza translated into English are:

Lord, bless Africa
May her spirit rise high up
Hear thou our prayers
Lord bless us.

Lord, bless Africa
Banish wars and strife
Lord, bless our nation
Of South Africa.

Ringing out from our blue heavens
From our deep seas breaking round

Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound …

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