The lyrics were written in 1918 as a poem, and a newspaper sponsored a contest to set it to music. DeVilliers won on his second entry (the first did not please Langenhoven), and was set to music in 1921. It became an unofficial anthem when South African media would play the song at the end of broadcasts along with “God Save the King” (the official anthem until 1957), starting in the 1920s. In 1936 is was unanimously selected by a South African culture organization devoted to selecting a national anthem for South Africa as their choice for a new anthem. In 1938, it was decided that “Die Stem” would be played at the opening of Parliament, and in 1957 it was declared as South Africa’s official national anthem. South Africa then became a republic in 1961.
It was then deemed necessary in the 1950s, with increasing popular and government support of “Die Stem”, to find a suitable English translation. This was finally achieved in 1952, where the best parts of over 220 translations were compiled into a single, official translation. It was performed in English for the first time that year, and revised slightly in 1959.
Even though the anthem was seen as closely tied with the apartheid regime, after multi-racial elections the new government decided in 1994 in a move of reconciliation, that “Die Stem” would become a co-national anthem with the black African song “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”. The anthems would be combined into a new anthem in 1997.
Special thanks to: Richard Bernstein for some of this information.