South Africa (1994-1997)


In 1897, music teacher Enoch Sontonga composed the song “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God Bless Africa) as a one-verse hymn. In 1927, several years after Sontonga’s death, additional verses for the hymn were written by poet Samuel Mqhayi. Since its first public performance in 1899, it became a very popular church hymn among the black population of South Africa, and spread throughout southern Africa and became translated into several of the indigenous languages of the region.

The song was adopted by the African National Congress (an organization, now political party, set up as an anti-apartheid group for the benefit of the black population) as its official anthem early in the twentieth century and soon took on a status as an unofficial anthem of the black people of southern Africa, and, in South Africa, the song was sung as an act of defiance against the policies put in place by the white government against the black population (known as apartheid). The song was used as the basis for the national anthem by several southern African nations including Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe (until 1994), and Namibia (until 1991), as well as the “black homelands” of Ciskei, Transkei, KwaZulu, Lebowa, QwaQwa, Ganzankulu, KaNgwane and KwaNdebele set up by the South African government during apartheid for the black population.

Upon the abolishment of apartheid and the first multi-racial elections in South Africa in 1994, the new president, Nelson Mandela of the ANC, decreed that both “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and the former national anthem under the white government, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” would both be the national anthem, symbolizing the coming together of the two populations by using both their anthems. In 1997 the two songs were combined into a new anthem that uses elements of both songs.

As mentioned earlier, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” was translated into many different languages, and also did not have a standard version or translation. The most common performance in modern times combines the Xhosa words with lines from the Sesotho and Zulu versions, which is represented here in the lyrics, sheet music and music section.