DIE STEM & NKOSI SIKELEL' I-AFRICA ARE EQUALLY OFFENSIVE

2015-09-29 18:42

Since we are conversing about the national anthem which is meant to be a unifying tool in ‘post-apartheid South Africa’, I thought I should also add in a few personal thoughts about it. The reason for the inverted commas is because South Africa is hereby conceptualized as a neo-apartheid and neo-colonial state resulting from continuity of systematic oppression and exclusion of Africans who are the indigenous occupants of Africa, where the landmass called South Africa is geographically located.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are calling for the omission of Die Stem’ from the anthem, a request which I think was first made in 2014 and is currently a populist demand riding on the wave of the call for transformation championed by the African youth seeking inclusion, redefinition and reconstruction of South Africa in all facets of existence. Die Stem, an apartheid national anthem, having a place in post-1994 South Africa signals a continuation of apartheid that gained new political management in the form of the ANC.

The fusion of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica, which was rendered the ANCs anthem in exile, with Die Stem is symbolic of the true nature of contemporary South Africa which is composed of an exclusive unequal relationship between settlers and non-whites of the ANC. The current blend ofbthe anthem is part of what we inherited as a result of the Convension for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations. The call for omission did not start with the EFF, Popcru also proposed the same in 2012. Compromises or not, young African people are unapologetically demanding transformation, even though it is seemingly replacing the discourse of revolution.

They are opposing the maintenance of symbols of oppression that ignite the hurt, humiliation and degradation infused in the sub-humanity of black existence. The transformation agenda is mainly supported by people whose racial past is a daily lived reality and possibly the immediate future unless radical changes are made.

‘Die Stem which means the call in English and pitso ka Sesotho originates from a poem titled Die Stem Van Suid Afrika/The call of South Africa. The poem in question was written by an Afrikaner named Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven. Langenhoven was an Afrikaner writer whose contribution to the development of Afrikaans literature was monumental for Afrikaner nationalism, subsequenctly having enormous impact on Africans in ‘South Africa’.

Unfortunately post-1976 black students still find themselves being taught in a language that ignites the trauma of black violence and subjugation at an educational institution that has a student centre named after Langenhoven. Indeed, the social hub of Stellenbosch University, Die Neelsie, is an affectionate name that was bestowed upon the author of Die Stem’. Cornelius craft became a nationalistic cluster of words that engulfed cultural and educational platforms for the political consciousness of 'Afrikanerhood.

While we are on the subject of 'Die Stem' and the recently trending topic, Stellenbosch, it is worth noting that Die Stem’ was composed on the same year that Victoria College was renamed Stellenbosch University and an organization by the name of ‘Jong Suid-Afrika’ was formed by Afrikaners who felt dissatisfied with the authorities of South Africa. Their organization was later renamed the Afrikaner Broederbond which in 1936, through its front organization, the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK- Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies), chose ‘Die Stem’ as the National Anthem. In 1921, Rev. Marthinus Lourens de Villiers had already turned the poem into a song which was merrily sung by South Africans in public for the first time in 1928. An Afrikaner segregationist by the name of Johannes Strijdom/Hans Strydom, a man who played a major role in the establishment of apartheid, officially made Die Stem a national anthem in 1957.

The first verse of the poem-turned-song (which is the third verse in the South African anthem) hails the land that was taken from Africans and turned into a heritage of imperial exploiters and colonial settlers. Die Stem was written a few years after the 1913 Natives Land Act that entrenched segregation and dispossession of land and Africans were barred from hiring or purchasing land from 93% of the landmass that was appropriated by an anti-African/anti-black South Africa. The legislation resulted in 87% of white/European land ownership with only 13% given to the African population. The majority of land in post-1994 South Africa’ is characterised by white minority ownership of the majority of the land and ‘black landlessness’.

Cheryl Walkers Fact sheet shows that 67% of commercial agricultural land remains in white/European hands. 15% is black state owned communal land, mostly underdeveloped former homelands and the other 7% of state owned land is made up of conservation areas which are inaccessible to most ordinary Africans in South Africa. 3% is dedicated to state institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons and so forth. Kindly note that a quater ownership of land in post-1994 'South Africa' managed by a black government does not equate black ownership of land. Infact, the 3% dedicated to the populace is equivalent to a sum of anti-black horror. If you do not believe me, kindly visit post-1994 South African apartheid institutions such as public hospitals, horror!

The rest of the 8% constitutes urban areas where colonial geography continues to be evident, for example Soweto and Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gugulethu.

The estimated 4 million inhabitants are squashed in approximately 150 square kilometre area of Soweto which has an estimated density of 8667 people per kilometre square. Kindly also consider viewing the 4554.15 households per kilometre square concentration camp in a 6.49 kilometre square area of Gugulethu, which is home to 98 468 people, who some of them are most likely students of Stellenbosch University.

These are representations of the reality of post-1994 South Africa and black existence. When the better off blacks of South Africa sing the anthem, be it from their gated communities, suburbs or wherever fancy and enviable zone of being, I wish for them to be cognisant that when they scream from the top of their lungs, that part of the national anthem that says our land, they are screaming about a fraction of the 8%.

I deliberately exclude the rural population because the former homelands remain the epitome of exclusion from South Africa hence people in the townships continue to speak, with some form of ridicule, about those outsiders. My grandparents are from the rural areas of Mpumalanga by the way, and I am really praying that there is some land to claim, sad isnt it? Modimo wa maAfrika tlameile a khutle from exile, stru!.

The vehement denial or distancing of oneself from emakhaya/mahaheng simply speaks of the extremity of the underdevelopment and inhumanity of existing in rural areas. This suggests that rural areas must be so horrible that a person living in a zone of death (see Fanon), the township, thinks she/he is in a better comparative condition. On the other hand, others disdain the dehumanizing township existence and due to higher labour consuming economic activity being concentrated in urban spaces, they are forced to become migrants in their country. I am, unfortunately, also a post-1994 migrant labourer although I am not from the rural areas clearly there is still much to be done in this country.

Moving back to the issue of Gugulethu students and Stellenbosch University, I compel the student who wrote obliviously about apartheid to ask fellow students from that township for a tour in the lives of Gugulethu residents and if they return from that zone of non-being thinking there is nothing abnormal about that existence, then I humbly request Bikonscious prayers to command the apartheid-demon-mentality to be rebuked out of that young man. It is also the people of Gugulethu or Soweto or any other high density zone of death that continue to be victims of a legislation that created the mess we find ourselves in today.

This mess, which is the reality of the majority, is what partly makes ‘Die Stem’ offensive to black Africans. There is a line from a verse omitted from the current national anthem that highlights the position of racists on the land issue in this country. The line goes as follows, [i]n thy power, Almighty, trusting, did our fathers build of old. Strengthen then, o Lord, their Children to defend, to love, to hold- that heritage they gave us for our children... and indeed they are defending the colonial apartheid form of land ownership. Their children are holding onto the heritage that was viciously taken from Africans. Their children celebrate our heritage through a braai whose meat is sadly from the animals bred on the land they hold on to enabled by the South African constitution.

We, the landless, were coerced to witness and/or participate in that humiliating Braai day without contestation. If one applies colonial logic, I think blacks are expected to be grateful that they are invited into this celebration which truly celebrates white heritage because Heritage Day being rendered Braai Day is not an anomaly at all. 'South Africa' remains an anti-African and Anti-black establishment as it was during its formation under non-African management.

The media and all the other agents of South African public memory distortion are complicit in this atrocity taking place under the African sun. The EFFs request of the removal of Die Stem at the exclusion of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica signals selectivity in what we seek to eradicate as colonial symbols. Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica is a Xhosa hymn that was written in 1897 and later became a song of defiance sung at various political gatherings. Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica is also a national anthem of Tanzania sung in Kiswahili, continentalists claim it as our pan-African symbol of heritage and African national pride however others critique the predominence of arabic in the language.

Nonetheless, 'Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica' meaning Lord Bless Africa’, is rooted in an unsavoury history of Christianity and colonization. Enoch Mankayi Sontonga was a clergyman who composed the song. He was a European trained missionary agent/teacher at the Methodist mission school in Nancefield. Western Christian missionaries are known to be precursors of Eurocentric education which played a significant role in African colonization and it is partly responsible for the limits in our decolonization project.

Prof. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni stated eurocentricism... can be articulated as a constellation of European prejudices and bundles of myths of white superiority; a sum of white ignorance masquerading as knowledge and mistrust of Others; of racial chauvinism; and xenophobia. In consideration of the following quotation by a Methodist clergyman in London, one could argue that the embracing of Christianity simply equates the acceptance of defeat. The quote is as follows:

"With the Kaffres, on the contrary, the missionaries have much greater difficulties to contend with. The latter are a reasoning and independent people, who have no prejudices in favour of Christianity and have no immediate interest to serve by adopting our religion; and it is only by argument that they are to be convinced of its truth. (Richard Bentley).

The above quotation highlights the history of resistance to Christianization in South Africa. Unfortunately it was not only by "argument" that Africans were won-over/converted in South Africa. The gospel of formal labour as a path to salvation was instilled and incidentally those who offered paid labour were European colonialists thus conversion became a precondition to inclusion into the European economy. This became the canal through which the natives became agents and foot soldiers of the colonial administration. Ntate Credo Mutwa also noted how the sick who sought help from western health centres were forced to convert if they were to be treated. Refusal to convert resulted in refusal of medical service.

I should note that I have nothing against christianity, my mother is a christian and I love her. Christianity is a useful tranquilizer to the turbulent and aching souls of black folks' amidst post-colonial violation. Moreover, upon closely analysing the grammar of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica, Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo, Yizwa imithandazo yethu, Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo" it becomes even more clearer that the majority of Africans in 'South Africa' will never own land if this hymn is anything to go by. The possessive pronoun 'our' is only used in referral to prayer and nothing else except "my nation" on the seSotho verse.

Sontonga's hymn illustrates that Africans own "nothing" but their prayers and seemingly brainwashed into normalizing that reality. Desmond Tutu rightfully said "when the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."

We also ought to grasp this phenomenon within the context of Afrikaner Nationalism founded on the christian/Afrikaner calvinist doctrine of the "chosen people" that was used to legitimize the subordination of Africans and land dispossession as the bible speaks of God's chosen and the inheritance of land. The English were just as guilty, the famous human slavery trader and naval commander, John Hawkins in partnership with Queen Elizabeth I, leased a slave ship named 'Jesus of Lubeck'.

The following verse in the 'South African' national anthem shows the relationship and perceptions of the Afrikaners to land. "South Africa! Uit die blou van onse hemel, Uit die diepte van ons see, Oor ons ewige gebergtes, Waar die kranse antwoord gee" the english translation is as follows: "South Africa, from our blue heavens, From our deep seas breaking round, Over everlasting mountains, Where the echoing crags resound". I think I need not say more, the possessive pronouns "speak" for themselves.

The analysis of the national anthem is located within a lens which highlights a saddening tale of colonial oppression in Africa. Moreover, the patriarchal ideology of the colonial Christian doctrine is entrenched and normalized as evident in the patriarchal nature of Nkosi sikelela and Morena boloka sechaba... which mainstreams the notion of not only a masculine God but a masculine protector as well. It seems we have not contested these elements in the national anthem.

Okay, I know I am asking too much, we exist in a patriarchal and Christian-centric world after all. I can even imagine the opposition to Mamorena le wena boloka sechaba sa heso nawe MaNkosi, SikeleliAfrica yethu, mother God, a female God complete with thick lips, a broad beautiful nose with enough melanin to bless the earth, the moons and other 'multiverses'. If such happens, all the patriarchal religious formations might possibly unite against such "blasphemy", a woman Almighty creator with African skin is not fathomable to the majority of the South African population.

It is easy to oppose because the hegemonic order is constituted by proponents of Die Stem and some people from the ANC. Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalist liberation movements have a disturbingly patriarchal history which also continues to characterise post-1994 society. Moreover, our beloved Christian document has some very disturbing verses about women in as much as it propagates love and all other wonderful things like tithing and respect for governments. It sadly contributes to the socialization of women to become subordinate to men, thus reproducing patriarchy.

Let me end here because this piece is not about the bible but the national anthem. Therefore I will conclude by saying that the patriarchal elements in our national anthem, Nkosi and Morena offend me as a woman as much as my awareness of apartheid and colonial history makes ‘Die Stem a traumatizing song. The verse in the anthem, which beguilingly ends with let us live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land yields feelings of elation for a South Africa masquerading as new and inclusive yet in reality it is nothing but a neo-apartheid state constructed as a hybrid of economic domination of children of the chanters of Die Stem’ and political affiliates of the ANC whose colonized leaders appropriated Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica.

The minor shift in the economic landscape of 'South Africa' is accountable to a handful number of black elites who today own the means of production because of their patriarchal, patrimonial clientel linkages to the ANC. The radical change of the neo-apartheid and neo-colonial South African constitution does not only threaten white economic interests, it has implications for the few "far better of blacks", this is what the hybrid national anthem means in contemporary South Africa.

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