Koos Kombuis

A New Anthem? Why? Why Not?

2016-08-26 14:29

Koos Kombuis

When I heard that Max du Preez is advocating the removal of the lyrics of the old “Stem van Suid-Afrika” from our national anthem, my first thought was: has this man lost his mind?

After all, the blending of “Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika” with “Die Stem” signifies reconciliation and unity. Wouldn’t throwing out the end bit symbolically destroy the idea of racial equality?

It took me three days to scrape together the courage to go and read that column myself.

I must admit, he explained himself very well. I am almost at the point where I agree with him. Almost.

A part of me still disagrees with him. A part of me wants to argue: “Why bother? Surely there are more important things to worry about right now than our national anthem? Will a change in our anthem put bread on the table? Will it get rid of corruption? Will it fill up pot-holes, create jobs, or bridge ethnic gaps?”

No. Of course tampering with this song will do none of these things. And, at least in the short term, it might worsen ethnic gaps. It will certainly piss off Steve Hofmeyr. It probably has already.

A musical fruit salad

Yet, after reading Max’s column, and re-reading it, and mulling about it for a day or two, I have to admit that I’m starting to warm to the idea of a different national anthem. Either a fresh rendition of “Nkosi Sikelel’”, as he suggested, with Afrikaans and English translations included in the text, or something altogether new. Such as “Halala Afrika” by Johannes Kerkorrel, or the well-known Struggle song “Azania”.

I don’t know.

I like both “Nkosi” and “Uit die blou”. I love the lyrics of “Uit die blou” and I love the tune of “Nkosi”. I can understand, however, that the lyrics of “Nkosi” exclude the numerous people who happen to be a-religious. And while it is hard to imagine “Uit die blou” with a different tune, Max has a point when he says the two songs don’t actually gel together. Musically, it is like creating a medley using Pink Floyd and Billy Joel. It sorts of jars. We don’t really notice it, because we had gotten used to it, but it’s a fruit salad of a song. Worse than a fruit salad; a fruit salad with chutney. There’s nothing wrong with either fruit salad or chutney, but do they belong together?

So where do we look for a solution?

Kerkorrel’s “Halaal” is beautiful, but listening that rather simple melody might get tedious after the hundredth time. As for “Azania”, it’s great to listen to, and it has a real epic feel, but the lyrics unfortunately contain incitements to violence which places that song firmly in an earlier period best remembered as part of history. Besides, it’s quite complicated to sing and I’d have difficulty practising it alone in the bathtub.

Renaming SA

However, speaking of the song “Azania”, this brings me to another point worth considering, since we are on the topic of national emblems:

The name of our country. “South Africa”. It bothers me. It has bothered me for a long time.

It does not sound like the name of a country. It sounds like the name of a region. It’s a hybrid. It sounds like “East London” or “Somerset West”.

With all due respect, both East London and Somerset West are great places. I actually live in one of them! But those names mean nothing.

“East London” is not really east of London, well, maybe a little bit, but mostly it’s far south, and what has it got to do with London anyway?

As for Somerset West; well, Lord Charles Somerset isn’t my favourite historical figure. And the only thing the name “Somerset West” tells me is that we are somewhere to the west of this horrid person. Which is completely meaningless. Who the hell cares?

The name “South Africa”, though geographically accurate, presents the same problem as those names. It also presents the same problem as our current national anthem. It does not quite gel. It does not hit home. It falls short of evoking that sense of national pride that the name of a country is supposed to evoke. It sounds like a phrase taken from Jan van Riebeeck’s school atlas. 

When I hear the name “South Africa”, I keep on feeling as if I need to add some explanation. “Actually, it’s the country of Madiba and Wolraad Woltemade and… and…. Steve Biko and… Johnny Clegg… and… you know…”

Perhaps Max was right. Our national anthem is neither here nor there. And the name of our country is definitely neither here nor there.

"Azania" feels right

Here is one suggestion. Let’s call our country “Azania”. Full stop. It’s a great name. It will look great on Google Earth. It just feels right. It got that ring to it that makes it work.

As for our anthem: here is an irreverent suggestion that probably won’t be taken seriously.

I love, I REALLY love the tune of Bok van Blerk’s song “De la Rey”. Of course, the lyrics are just as outdated as the lyrics of “Azania”, if not more so, but imagine rewriting it with new words and new meanings. In Xhosa, Zulu, English and Afrikaans!

It’s easy to sing, and it would be great for reconciliation!

Okay. Perhaps I'm not being entirely serious here.

But think about it! At least it’s better than “Pampoen”...

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