After the first free South African elections, as a sign of the beginning of the “New South Africa,” we now have two national anthems — “Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika” and “Die Stem.”
While I believe that both hymns are beautiful in their praise of Africa and its people, they have, over the years, come to represent the plight of the oppressed and the cry of the oppressor.
During the African National Congress’ thirty year exile, “Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika” became one of the few permissible resistance songs to oppressive white rule. Today it has become the liberation anthem of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Tanzania.
“Die Stem” was also originally a resistance song, written in protest to British colonial oppression of white Afrikaners in South Africa. Recently, it has come to symbolize white oppression of blacks, resulting in its banishment at the Olympics and enormous outcries against it being sung at official events.
Are these two anthems now to represent a united, democratic South Africa? Quite to the contrary, it is hugely ironic that in attempting to represent both anthems, the new government has actually fulfilled the original goal of apartheid — “equal but separate.” We have taken the two worst aspects of the old regime and placed them side by side to supposedly represent a new, euphoric South Africa.
While I was taught parts of “Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika” long before I learnt parts of “Die Stem,” I hardly imagine that all white South Africans will welcome the opportunity to sing the song of black liberation. Similarly, I doubt that black South Africans will no longer feel resentment when they are called to sing “Die Stem.”
So much is changing in South Africa — wonderful changes, necessary changes — but does this change not call for a new anthem, a new beginning in which new traditions are created and new myths born, instead of preserving the old symbols of oppression and resistance and merely placing them on an equal par? We do not need the liberation anthem of five African nations; we do not need the liberation anthem of the Afrikaners’ fight against colonialism.
What we need is something new, something positive; a symbol of our nations growth towards unity, prosperity and peace. For we are above all one people and one nation, and should therefore have one anthem with which all South Africans can identify and sing with pride and hope for a better future.