Max du Preez

Maimane 'should help drop Die Stem from the anthem'

2016-08-23 07:36

Max du Preez

Come on, Mmusi Maimane, you are in a better position than any other South African politician to help get rid of the verses from Die Stem in our national anthem.

I say you’re in the best position because you are the political leader of the overwhelming majority of white South African voters on whose behalf these verses were incorporated in the anthem.

The ANC has thus far resisted all pressure to fiddle with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica because they feared a backlash from whites who could have seen it as an attack on them.

But if the proposal comes from the party supported by most whites and other minorities, only a few hardliners would be angry.

I have been arguing for the removal of Die Stem from our anthem for a long time. I love our anthem, but I’ve never been able to sing the “Uit die blou van onse hemel” part. Before you choke on your porridge, here are my arguments.

There is nothing wrong with the actual words or melody of Die Stem. But no adult South African can have any doubt that is a symbol closely associated with the apartheid era. Whether you like to hear it or not, Die Stem and the orange, white and blue flag were the prime symbols of Afrikaner nationalism that dominated our society between 1948 and 1994.

Reminded of the past

Most Afrikaners and other white South Africans make it clear today that they believe apartheid was wrong and immoral. Former president FW de Klerk, some of his Cabinet colleagues and the Afrikaans churches had all issued elaborate apologies for the era of injustice.

Many white South Africans complain that two decades after we became a democracy they are still blamed for apartheid, and they ask that we rather negotiate a better future than be stuck in the past.

But what sense does it make then to remind the rest of South Africa of apartheid every time we sing our national anthem?

How would they have felt if the National Party’s main negotiating partner, the ANC, had insisted on including one of their struggle songs – that Zuma favourite Umshini wam, for instance – in our anthem after 1994?

The whole idea of including Die Stem in Nkosi Sikelel’ was to give recognition and reassurance to whites, to pacify them and give a signal that they won’t be excluded from our new democracy.

A noble thought, but a big mistake to use the symbol of apartheid oppression for this.

Solution obvious and simple

Another consideration is a musical one. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika is a beautiful, gentle hymn, while Die Stem is marching music. It bothers my musical ear every time I hear it. The New Zealand anthem God Defend New Zealand is sung in Maori and English on the same melody, and it is beautiful.

I believe the solution is obvious and simple. Replace the verses from Die Stem with verses of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika in Afrikaans and English, using the same melody. That would make the same point of including minority groups, but not send a signal that whites are nostalgic about the past. It can’t offend anyone.

If this proposal comes from the DA, the party supported by most members of the minority groups, it would send a powerful message of goodwill and reconciliation to the black majority, something that is badly needed.

There are many South Africans, not only EFF members, who sing Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica with gusto, but shut up when Die Stem starts.

Whether you like it or not, this is not a good situation.

The purpose of a national anthem is exactly to promote a sense of common loyalty among all citizens.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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