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The South African National Anthem: a history on record


Ever since I heard Gideon Nxumalo’s very subtle piano hint to Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika in the opening bars of his 2nd Movement on the classic 1962 live recording, Jazz Fantasia, at the Wits Great Hall, I had been compiling a casual list of the various other recordings of this classic hymn and anthem. At that time the song had supposedly been freshly banned by the apartheid authorities and any performance was, according to some sources, prohibited. Which might explain Nxumalo’s exceptionally subtle approach. I thought then how an examination of this anthem along with its various iterations might be a potentially interesting subject for a future post.

Recently, I was contacted by Anders Kelto, a reporter for PRI and BBC’s radio programme The World, who was looking for early recordings of the South African National Anthem in any of its various forms. I sent Anders my compiled list with the information that I had collected to that point. Of course, one thing led to another and I continued expanding on this research. The post below is the result and covers the history of the recordings not only of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika but also the various other songs, Morena BolokaDie Stem, and The Call, that make up the Anthem.

In the process of doing the research I was greatly assisted by and would like to thank Christopher Ballantine1, Gabriele Mohale2, Brian Willan3, Diana Thram4, Liezl Visagie4, Jonathan Ward5, Alan Kelly6, Pat Liebetrau7 and Andrea Vorster.7 In addition I would like to thank these institutions: the Department of Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Historical Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand; the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University; Digital Innovation South Africa (DISA); and the South African Music Archive Project (SAMAP).

After a proclamation in the Government Gazette, No. 18341,8 dated October 10, 1997 shortened and adapted versions of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (in isiXhosa and isiZulu), Morena Boloka (the Sesotho version), Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (the National Anthem from 1957-1994 in Afrikaans) and The Call of South Africa (the English version of Die Stem) were merged and adopted as the official South African National Anthem. According to the Presidential government website the subsequent anthem is uniquely “neo-modal” or one of the few National Anthems that begins in one key and ends in another.9

The essay below is structured around each stanza of the current anthem with a detailed analysis of the early recordings that led to its final state. The text is a work in progress and some recordings remain without contextualisation but nevertheless have been listed in the interests of compiling this discography. I will continue adding details about each recording as information becomes available and time will allow. A chronological discography of many of these recordings can be viewed at flatinternational.

“Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” in isiXhosa and isiZulu

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Lord bless Africa
May her glory be lifted high
Hear our petitions
Lord bless us, your children10

The first stanza of the original lyrics to the hymn, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, were written in isiXhosa by Enoch Mankayi Sontonga in 1897 at Nancefield (Klipspruit), seventeen kilometers west of Johannesburg. Sontonga, a school teacher at a Methodist mission school there, had “a gift for song” according to D.D.T. Jabavu and he avidly composed tunes for his students to use at public events.11

By some accounts Sontonga also composed the music for the hymn later that same year. Though there are notable articles online that suggest the melody is loosely based on a Welsh hymn entitled Aberystwyth written by Joseph Parry probably in 1879. According to these sources the hymn is likely to have travelled to Africa through Welsh missionaries.12

Many reputable websites have repeated this claim including an article by the BBC on a lost hymn by Parry that had been found by the conductor Edward-Rhys Harry.13 But the original source for the claim is a little more elusive. The earliest reference I have found online for the connection is from a Wikipedia entry for Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika which was updated in December 2010.14 (Watch the hymn being performed by the Tredegar Town Band at YouTube and feel free to make some comments below. Other performances can be found at YouTube, which may sway you in either direction.)

Written by hand in Tonic Sol-fa, Sontonga compiled his songs, including Nkosi Sikelel i’Afrika, in an exercise book that he hoped one day to publish, but sadly before doing so he died on April 18th, 1905.15 Mweli Skota, as Veit Erlmann reveals in African Stars, suggested that John Dube, the founder of the Ohlange Institute near Durban in 1901 and also the first President of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912, was “so moved” by the tune that he asked permission for his choir at Ohlange to perform it.16 The choir would eventually popularise the tune while touring Natal and the Transvaal. Likewise friends and other choir teachers borrowed the manuscripts from Sontonga’s widow after his death and eventually the original documents disappeared.17

According to David Coplan Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was first publicly sung in 1899 at the ordination ceremony of the Reverend M. Boweni, who became the first Tsonga clergyman in the Methodist Mission Church.18 On January 8th, 1912 the Ohlange Institute Choir performed the song after the closing prayer at the first meeting of the newly formed SANNC.19 Coplan suggests that Reuben T. Caluza directed the choir on this historical occasion but this might be reexamined in light of Erlmann’s claim that Caluza only joined the staff at Ohlange Institute in 1915 replacing Lingard D. Bopela as choir leader.20

The SANNC officially shortened their name to the ANC or African National Congress in May 1923 and eventually adopted Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika as their official anthem in 192521replacing Reuben Caluza’s Silusapho Lwase Afrika (aka “Umteto we Land Act”) that had been their first anthem since 1913.22 (Coplan maintains that this all took place in 1925 though Veit Erlmann contradicts this account by suggesting that Nkosi Sikelel iAfrikawas adopted by the SANNC in 1919.)

Seven more verses in isiXhosa, penned by poet Samuel E. Mqhayi, were added in 1927 and first published in the form of a pamphlet by the Lovedale Press that same year. The song was also printed in the newspaper, Umteteli wa Bantu on June 11th, 192723 and subsequently included in hymnals (1929) and books on poetry. The popularity of the hymn spread throughout Africa and variations of the tune were eventually adopted as national anthems by a number of countries including Tanzania, Zambia, for a time Zimbabwe and Namibia and perhaps somewhat ironically by the Transkei “Bantustan” at its formation in 1963.24

With the adoption of the hymn by the ANC as its official anthem, the song was sung at many official events. But it could also be heard at most gatherings of protest and subsequently became a rallying cry and symbol of resistance. The role of the hymn in this way shifted from a religious to a political context. By many accounts, the song was apparently banned by the apartheid government after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, when both the ANC and PAC were outlawed, but I am still searching for more specific documentation of this ban. Ironically, there were examples of the song being tolerated by the apartheid government in the 1960s and this is discussed in more detail below.

1923 October 16th
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika
Recorded at Hayes, Middlesex, UK
Zonophone 4168, matrix Bb3640-2If one consults His Master’s Voice / De Stem van Zijn Meester, the Dutch Catalogue in Alan Kelly’s excellent series documenting the discographical history of the Gramophone Company Limited, one will find an entry for six tracks by Sol Plaatje on page 88.25 Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was one of the founding members and the first General Secretary of the SANNC and it is he who made the first recording of the hymn in London in 1923.Plaatje was part of the SANNC delegation that traveled to the UK in May 1914 to present their case of protest against the Natives Land Act of 1913, in hopes that the British government would aid in the law’s repeal. The Act, for the most part, disenfranchised blacks from owning land in the Union of South Africa. Plaatje would return to South Africa in February of 1917 after the publication in England of his critical book Native Life in South Africa the year before. He then made two additional journeys to the UK, leaving South Africa in June 191926 and then returning again in September 192227 after spending nearly two years in Canada and the United States. Plaatje’s recordings were subsequently made at the Hayes studios in Middlesex, London in the last few days of his final visit. He departed for South Africa on October 26, 1923.28Plaatje had returned to the UK after the United States partly to seek funding to publish his translation of the Fellowship Hymn Book used by the International Brotherhood Congress.29 Brian Willan, in his excellent biography on Plaatje, believes that he may have been introduced to “people in the gramophone recording world” after a month long participation in a performance titled Cradle of the World, at the Philharmonic Hall in August 1923. The elaborate event included the presentation of a wildlife film shot in central Africa sprinkled with live sketches meant to illustrate parts of the film. While the larger production itself had some mixed reviews in the press, it did give Plaatje the opportunity to employ his singing talents.30The UK based Gramophone Company Limited (home to labels like His Master’s Voice and Zonophone) was one of the first companies to issue South African music and had sent a recording engineer George Walter Dillnutt there with a mobile unit in March and April of 1912.31 The unit recorded material in Johannesburg and Cape Town that was subsequently issued on 78 rpm shellac discs and marketed in South Africa on the company’s Zonophone label as the 4000 series. The company would continue to make recordings in the 1920s and 30s at its head office in London and these included the seven tunes by Plaatje.

At least five songs including Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika were recorded by Plaatje with Sylvia Colenso on piano on October 16th, 1923. These were subsequently issued on four sides (or two discs) with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika being accompanied by a Hlubi folk song, Peshaya Ko Tukela (Across the Tugela), on the same side and an isiXhosa tune, Singa Mawela, on the reverse side (Zonophone, 4168). Two additional tunes were probably recorded by Plaatje in that same session with Colenso. It is likely that the sound quality of these was not deemed good enough and Plaatje was asked to return on October 23 and retake both. Colenso does not appear to have been available for the later session and thus two other pianist were called in: Mr. Grant and Madame Adami. These two tracks, each from a third take, were issued on a third disc (Zonophone, 4169).32

The six recordings made by Sol T. Plaatje in the order that they were first recorded based on the matrix numbers:

Sol T. Plaatje with Sylvia Colenso on piano, October 16, 1923
Bb3638-1     Lead kindly Light (Dykes) (Sechuana) (4167, X-7-32084)
Bb3639-2     Hark, ’tis the Watchman’s Cry (M. Foster) (Sechuana) (4167, X-7-32083)
Bb3640-2     a) Peshaya Ko Tukela (Across the Tugela) (Hlubi folk song)
b) Nkosi Sikelel i’Afrika (Native National Hymn in Zulu and Suto) (4168, X-7-32085)
Bb3643-1     Singa Mawele (We are twins) (Si-Xosa) (4168, X-7-32086)

Sol T. Plaatje with Madame AdamiA and Mr. GrantB on piano, October 23, 1923
Bb3641-3     A Band of Hard-Pressed Men are WeA (Si-Xosa) (4169, X-7-32087)
Bb3642-3     The Kaffir Wedding SongB (J. K. Bokwe) (Si-Xosa) (4169, X-7-32088)

Interestingly Plaatje in the recording of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika is accompanied by Miss Sylvia Colenso on piano. She was 36 at the time, and in addition to piano contribution her voice can be heard in the background repeating the refrain “Osa” — her ‘response’ to his ‘call’. What strikes me about this musical pairing, this collaboration if you like, is the way in which it bears witness to the crossing of racial and gender differences. Here a black man and white woman perform together the very first recording of the future South African National anthem. This simple collaboration comes to stand powerfully and symbolically for what a future ideal multi-racial South Africa could be.

Sylvia Nellie Colenso was born in London in 1887,33 and yet her connection to South Africa and its history is deep. Her grandfather, John William Colenso, was the famed social-activist and controversial first Anglican Bishop of Natal. He died in Durban in 1883. His daughters followed the liberal path set by him in South Africa. For example Frances Ellen Colenso published two books in the 1880s on relations between the Zulus and the British, while Harriette Emily Colenso became an outspoken critic of the Natalian authorities and their treatment of the Zulus.34 Sol Plaatje on his first visit to London had befriended the Colenso family, particularly Sophie Colenso,35 the widow of Francis Ernest Colenso, the Bishop’s son. It was with their daughter, Sylvia, who played piano, that Plaatje made the recordings.

Alan Kelly’s discographical research has determined that Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika is listed as the “Native National Hymn in Zulu and Suto” while other songs by Plaatje are sung in “Si-Xosa”.36 The current version of the National Anthem has the 1st stanza in both isiXhosa and isiZulu, and versions of the song in both languages have existed for decades, generally though most early recordings were sung in isiXhosa. I have consulted some isiZulu speakers and it does appear that the recording is in isiXhosa rather than isiZulu.37

One discographical detail about the recording is that the matrix number is listed as Bb3640-2, with the “2” suggesting that there was an earlier take of the song made. Some further research would need to be undertaken at EMI Archives to determine whether that first master disc still exists and if it also included the singing of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica.

Another small detail regarding the matrix numbers in Kelly’s research is that Singa Mawela (matrix Bb3643-1) is listed as being recorded on October 16th, 1923 whereas the remaining two tracks he lists as recorded on October 23 have lower matrix numbers (Bb3641-3 and Bb3642-3). The “3” at the end of these numbers suggests that they were the third takes of each song. It is my guess that Plaatje had made the first takes on October 16th and then was asked to come back to the studio and make the additional takes on October 23rd as the earlier ones may have been deemed inadequate. This might also explain why different pianists were used on the later recordings as perhaps Miss Colenso was unavailable on the second occasion. Multiple takes on different days usually still carried the initial number of the first take.

The fact that Kelly lists the tracks not only in his T-series (T for Twin) discography38 of Zonophone records but also in his book His Master’s Voice / De Stem van Zijn Meester: The Dutch Catalogue could suggest that the records were not only issued in the UK for the South African market but also in the Netherlands. View the UK pressing at flatinternational.

I was curious to hear this very early recording of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and did some digging online to see where it could be found. At least three physical copies of the record do exist in various collections:

1) The EMI Archives in Hayes, Middlesex has unlabeled test pressings of all three discs by Plaatje (4167, 4168 and 4169). It is from these discs that Christopher Ballantine, in the Department of Music at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN), requested copies be made for research purposes in the 1980s.39 These transfers included many additional early and rare recordings on the Zonophone label on cassette and those tapes eventually formed part of the UKZN Music Library collection. With funding from the National Research Foundation, the cassette copies were digitised in 2007 through the South African Music Archive Project (SAMAP) and subsequently hosted online by Digital Innovation South Africa (DISA).40 Shortened samples of these tracks can know be heard at the SAMAP website.

It is here that I first came to look for the recordings. Alas, no results were found in my searches for “Nkosi Afrika” or “Plaatje” so I tried the disc number “4178” and remarkably got results for the two tracks Pesheya ko Tukela and Singa Mawela, but still no Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika. From Kelly’s research I knew that Nkosi was on the same side as Pesheya ko Tukela and from Brian Willian’s account that it was not listed on the label.41 As a result when SAMAP digitized the tapes the single track was titled with the name of the first song only. Also Plaatje’s name in the digitizing process had been spelt Plaatjie thus making name searches turn up with no results. A listen would confirm the latter track, but unfortunately sound files at SAMAP are clipped to fade out after 30 seconds and so I was unable to determine if the song was indeed on this recording. I contacted Christopher Ballantine who then put me in touch with the UKZN Music Librarian, Andrea Vorster and Pat Liebetrau at SAMAP/DISA and a search was undertaken for the original tracks. With some additional detective work a full version of Peshaya Ko Tukela revealed the “hidden track” in the last minute of the song. Pat Liebetrau has since updated the files at SAMAP to include Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and it can now be heard here.42

source: Historical Papers, Wits

2) The Historical Papers Archive at Wits University has what appears to be a badly cracked original shellac disc which forms part of their collection of Sol Plaatje papers (A979-Df). Many thanks to Gabriele Mohale, Archivist at Historical Papers, for sharing with me images of the cracked disc which is now stored behind glass for protection. The Plaatje documents were given to the collection by Rex Molemo and apparently “were found in a wooden box in a storeroom in Mafeking”.43 This collection also includes a leaflet (A979-Dc) put out by the Zonophone Company advertising Plaatje’s three records. The leaflet is reproduced in Brian Willan’s biography of Sol Plaatje and can also be viewed at the National Papers website.44 National Papers with funding from the Carnegie Foundation undertook to digitize all Plaatje’s documents in 2012. But as the inventory notes reveal, Deborah Wilson, the archivist responsible, was unable to make a recording from the disc because of its damage.45 The collection however does have digital copies of the record as well as Plaatje’s two others which, I assume, they were able to get from the EMI Archives. Interestingly, as Willan notes, the track Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika is not listed in the advertising leaflet nor is it identified on the disc label itself. In an online bulletin, Willan has pointed to some speculation over this omission that suggests that the “song was regarded as politically sensitive and that the recording was seditious”.46 Willan, however, disagrees and concludes that the recording may have been an afterthought and the omission simply an oversight by the company. It must be noted however that Kelly’s discographical research, which is sourced from a number of varied documents including the original ledgers from the Gramophone Company, does include the so-called “hidden” track as part b) on the side where Pesheya ko Tukela is part a). It is possible that Kelly’s research may have been informed by Willan’s, however if that be the case, I am sure Willan would not have referred to the track as “Native National Hymn sung in Zulu” which sounds more like historical meta-data derived from old documents.

3) The British Library National Sound Archive in London has digital copies of a severely warped disc that was brought to them in September 1995 by Brian Willan. They applied some significant procedures, including heating the disc in a specially designed oven, to rectify the warpage and make a recording. Willan had been given the disc by a relative of Plaatje’s while in the process of doing his research.47 The NSA through Willan’s assistance were eventually able to secure digital copies of all three discs from the EMI archives. This account and the archiving process are published in their bulletin Playback(issue 12). The recordings can be heard on the NSA tape 10632WR.

1929 cJuly
Nkosi Sikelel‘i Afrika (God Bless Africa) (Enoch Sontonga) (Xhosa)
Conducted by G.A. Broughton
Recorded in Johannesburg (made in the UK)
Regal, GR 1, matrix WEA 169
Regal Zonophone, GR 1, matrix WEA 169
(early 1930s reissue of Regal GR 1) (made in UK)
Columbia, YE 117, matrix WEA 169
(brown label reissue, 1950s)The next recording of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika was made around July 1929 by the St. Peters School and Church Choir, conducted by G.A. Broughton. The reverse side has two tracks composed by John Knox Bokwe, and sung by the St. Peters Hostel Choir conducted by G. Nongauza.A number of recordings were made in Johannesburg and these were all issued on Columbia’s light-green Regal label. Regal had been established as a mid-priced label by the company in 1914. The company shifted their coupling number prefix for UK domestic issues to MR in March 1930.48 Some have said that the MR denotes “Magenta Regal” which also happens to be the colour of the label. Likewise this might explain why the light-green labels of the South African issues were given a GR prefix, perhaps for “Green Regal”. An example further down by the Wilberforce Institute Singers shows this early label design.The image above shows a reissue on the Regal Zonophone label but an example on the Regal label does exist in the ILAM archives. Regal Zonophone was a budget label established after Gramophone Company and the Columbia Graphophone Company merged to become EMI (or Electric and Music Industries Limited) in March 1931. The first records on this new label were issued in January 1933.49Given the change in number prefixes by the Graphophone Company, it is likely that the South African GR series was also issued after March in 1930. The series included songs in a range of Southern African languages including isiXhosa, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Chopi, and Chikaranga (or Shangaan). The highest number I have found to date is GR 54 by Die Vyf Vastrappers.50 Of course, I think it is quite significant that the label’s first issue, GR 1, was a recording of Sontonga’s anthem Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.

I was able to date this recording based on a small note that the seminal ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey mentions in an account in his 1972 publication: The Sound of Africa Series, Volume One. Here Tracey recalls with some explicit detail:

“My first recordings of African music were published by the Columbia [Grapho]phone Company in 1930 under their Regal label. They were all Rhodesian Karanga songs which I had known for some years. I collected together the twelve men from whom I had first heard them and brought them down by lorry to Johannesburg in July 1929, each to lead the singing of his own song. These constituted the first recordings of authentic folk music from Rhodesia ever published. Five 78 rpm discs only (ten items) of the early series are still preserved in the ILAM archive (GR 33, 35, 36, 38 and 40).”51

To be sure, Columbia Graphophone Company, the UK-based competitor of Gramophone Company, had sent a recording unit to South Africa in 1929. Some accounts have this visit as taking place in 1930, but if Tracey’s recollections are right then the correct date would be July 1929. Interestingly, an early photograph in the ILAM Photo Archive shows Tracey recording in Johannesburg with the “Karanga” men. The meta-data for this image states that it was taken “approximately in June 1929” (a month earlier).52 Tracey, in his text, does go on to say that he travelled by train with an additional group of “Karanga” men to Cape Town in 1933 when another Columbia unit visited from the UK. Perhaps someone can identify the style of microphone used in this image, which might help confirm the date.

Hugh Tracey with The Chipika Singers, JHB, July 1929. Source ILAM Photo Archive with kind permission.

The recordings by the “Karanaga” men were issued on the Regal label as The Chipika Singers (GR 33 – 40) with the matrix numbers WEA 484 – 502.53 The recording of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika has the matrix number WEA 169 suggesting that is was recorded well before those of The Chipika Singers. To make things a little more complicated these early Regal and Columbia issues have an additional five-digit matrix in the lead-out of the shellac. It is my guess that these were ‘global’ matrix numbers for Columbia’s head office back in the UK and the WEA matrix numbers were applied specifically for the South African issues. While the order of the five-digit numbers does not necessarily match those of the WEA numbers the general chronology does make sense, more-or-less. Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika has the number 54779 (WEA 169) and it comes before recordings by The City Deep Natives from 54971 to 55013 (issued as WEA 238 – 245, GR 15 – 18).54 Therefore, if Tracy’s recollections are correct, I would say the recordings of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika by St. Peter’s Church and School Choirs are from or before July 1929. View the disc at flatinternational.

St. Peters Hostel Choir conducted by G. Nongauza, cJuly 1929
WEA 152     a) Ixesha Lokunduluka (Time of Departing) (J.K. Bokwe)
b) Msindisi Waboni (Saviour of Sinners) (J.K. Bokwe) (Regal, GR 1)
WEA 156     Ixegwana (Reuben T. Caluza) (Regal, GR 13)

St. Peters Church Choir conducted by G.A. Broughton, cJuly 1929
WEA 158     Fika Ya Bo-Sa-Khutlen (Rock of Ages) (Redhead) (Regal, GR 5)
WEA 166     Morena, O Nee Le Nna Mo Bonchun L (Abide With Me) (W.H. Monk) (Regal, GR 5)

St. Peters School and Church Choirs conducted by G.A. Broughton, cJuly 1929
WEA 169     Nkosi Sikeleli’ Afrika (God Bless Africa) (Sontonga, Enoch)

St. Peter’s, perhaps now somewhat forgotten, included a Secondary School, a church, a hostel (housing 40 boarders in the 1930s), and then later a theological college. This school was one of the first in South Africa where black students could receive a matriculation. Of course, this legendary missionary institution educated the likes of Oliver Tambo, Es’kia Mphahlele, Peter Abrahams, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Desmond Tutu and Kgalema Motlanthe to name but a few. Even the iconic painter, Gerard Sekoto, had a studio in this leafy complex, located in the suburb of Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg.55 To be sure, there is an excellent chapter dedicated to this school and its influence on the formative years of Oliver Tambo in his biography, Beyond the Engeli Mountains, by Luli Callinicos.56

In 1909 Lady Selbourne, the wife of the then High Commissioner, established St. Agnes, a residential training school for black female domestic workers in central Johannesburg. The project was eventually transferred to an order of the High Anglican Church known as the Community of Resurrection and at some point the focus of the institution shifted to boys’ education and was renamed St. Peter’s. In the 1920s Father Osmond Victor relocated the institution from central Johannesburg to what was then the relatively unpopulated suburb of Rosettenville and by 1925 the new campus was opened.57

The Community of Resurrection (or CR), founded in England in 1892, by many accounts was a progressive religious order which Callinicos in his book affirms: “This consideration of the working class people, together with a broader, more intellectual and flexible view of the message of the Bible than was generally accepted at the time, marked members of the CR as socially radical”. As Brother Roger Castle, a housemaster at the school declared: “St.Peter’s is trying to produce an educated, self-disciplined, Christian youth, capable of becoming the leaders of the New Africa.”58

Though viewed by some as paternalistic, the “CR was more sensitive to cultural identity than the vast majority of missionaries” and had an educational policy that was integrationist. For obvious reasons the CR had to operate prudently in the context of South Africa as to avoid controversy and so while their students were mostly black their staff was still quite multi-racial.59

In addition the school encouraged professionals from the greater community to visit the school. For example, Selope Thelma, a journalist and subeditor of The Bantu Worldwould come each Wednesday and give the students a lesson in African history including topics such as the “struggle against colonialism and oppression.” Ultimately as Callinicos points out Thelma showed the boys that “they had a role to play.”60

The school’s impact in shaping the identity of a young Oliver Tambo in the 1930s, was significant. While most pupils were drawn from the Traansvaal, the student body was still culturally eclectic with a broad range of African languages being spoken. Tambo points out: “I was now at an institution that was representative of the whole country, the whole of South Africa – a school that had most of the attributes of a national, as distinct from a local institution. I had entered a wider world”.61 Tambo matriculated from the school in 1938 but when writing his Junior Certificate in 1936, he became the first ‘African’ student to pass with a first-class degree — news that became sensational countrywide at that time.

Tambo was also a member of the choir and he points out that the school had an excellent reputation for singing. A visitor to the College in 1926, as Callinicos reveals, glowingly referred to the choir in this way: “what that of black velvet would be, could it sing. The rich, blurry effect is increased by the fact… they sing in English, Dutch, Sechuana and Sekosa (sic) words all at once… The fire and emphasis imparted to one’s halting words by the interpreter is something wonderful”.62

In a recollection of his first year at St.Peter’s, which must have been in the early 1930s, Tambo mentions a senior boy, Christopher Nkumbane, who was one of the finest singers at the school. It is possible that, as a younger student, Nkumbane could be singing on the 1929 Regal recording of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika. Moreover Tambo recalls with fondness the influence of the choir conductor Mr. Nonqausa, the same (though spelt differently) that conducts the hostel choir on the reverse side of the disc. In a substantial paragraph Callinicos outlines Tambo’s account of Nonqausa’s influence:

“The deep and lasting perception of injustice – a ‘sense of moral legitimacy’, which was spreading throughout colonial Africa – was trickling down into even the most respectable black Christian schools. In the more suggestive lessons, sermons and songs, invocations of resistance could already be discerned. ‘I came to know a plethora of choral music in the vernacular whose theme focused on and deplored the social, economic and political status of the African – of the black person. Virtually all these songs, many of them prepared by some of the most famous composers in the country, urged the African to rise up and take his proper place among the nations of the world. The first of these that I came across was a song by the St. Peter’s Secondary School Choir, conducted by Mr. Nonqausa who was the choirmaster in 1934: “Awake, awake ye nations of Africa, Why are you content to remain in darkness?” These were the opening words. [But] there were scores of other songs pursuing the same theme: “Masizas Vukane Ma Wethu, Vukane Ma Wethu.” “Awake , O My People”, which begins by lamenting the sad plight of the black person in Africa and ends with a rousing call to the people to awake and unite in action, is one of the classics in South African choral music. It is a striking and even a central characteristic of the culture of the black people of South Africa that at moments of joy, grief or danger they resort to singing. The end result is that the country resounds with song, much of it dedicated to our hopes for the future.’”63

Of course the school’s impact on the history of South African music would not end in choral singing. In 1954, a fourteen year old student was given his first musical instrument by the school’s superintendent. Who would know then what impact this action would have on a very young Hugh Masekela by the Father Trevor Huddleston. Soon other instruments were acquired and Masekela along with his school friend, Jonas Gwangwa, on trombone, formed the legendary Father Huddleston Jazz Band.

Huddleston’s impact on South African history reached way beyond music. It was while he was at St. Peter’s that he wrote his famous memoir: Naught For Your Comfort, a blistering attack on apartheid South Africa that was eventually published in the UK in 1956 and became a best-seller.64

St. Peter’s, under Huddleston, was by the early 1950s accepting 1500 students.65 But the apartheid government saw the school and many other similar missionaries as a threat and in 1953 imposed the Bantu Education Act forcing them to adopt its racially motivated inferior education policies or close. Huddleston was faced with an impossible dilemma, to educate black students poorly or not at all, and in a courageous decision he decided to close what he loved most dearly. In an article, as Piers McGrandle reveals, he would write this opinion justifying his actions:

“It is still happily possible to prefer death to dishonour. St. Peter’s will die. There is only one path open to the African: it is the path back to tribal culture and tradition: to ethnic groups; to the reserves; to anywhere other than the privileged places habited by the master race. It is because we can’t accept such principles that we are closing St. Peter’s…”66

Huddleston’s active campaigning against the apartheid government had spread and his notoriety had escalated. In 1955 he was recalled by the Community of Resurrection and in March 1956 he was relocated first to the United States and then other countries. At his farewell concert at the Bantu Men’s Social Club (BMSC), enough funds were raised that Union Artists, the sponsors of the event, were able to buy Dorkay House. This permanent training and performance venue would soon become a crucible for South African Jazz.

Whilst in the United States, Huddleston met amongst many others Martin Luther King and Louis Armstrong. He mentioned the Huddleston Jazz Band and Masekela to Armstrong who was so moved that he gave him his FX Huller trumpet as a donation, which Huddleston subsequently sent back to Masekela in South Africa.67

For a time, the theological college at St. Peter’s remained and drew student’s like Desmond Tutu who became an ordained minister there in 1961.68 Ultimately the government forced the college to close in 1963 and it relocated to the new ecumenical Federal Theological Seminary in Alice near fort Hare in the Eastern Cape.69

1930 cSep
Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika
Recorded in London
Singer, GE 13, matrix EG 640
(From the CD compilation, Opika Penda. Many thanks to Jonathan Ward of Excavated Shellac for sending me the images of the record. View them at flatinternational.)Roughly 14 months after the visit by the Columbia recording unit to Johannesburg, their principle competitor in the UK, Gramophone Company, through a local agent Mackay Brothers,70signed a contract with Reuben T. Caluza, and invited him to make a series of recordings at their studios in Hayes, London. The 150 odd tracks recorded between September 4th and October 7th 1930 became a landmark series and set Caluza up to become, by some accounts, one of South Africa’s first “recording stars”.Not to be outdone, a fledgling company based in Johannesburg, which had been marketing imported records since 1926, decided to also enter the recording business. It’s founder Eric Gallo sent Griffiths Motsieloa along with a number of Afrikaans performers (Pieter Burger, Jan van Dyl)71 to England to cut some tracks. At that time there were no recording or pressing facilities in South Africa and so all masters had to be made in Europe or the USA, then manufactured in bulk and shipped back by boat.At that time commercial air-flight was not an option and all travel was done by ship. Veit Erlmann in his African Stars has a humorous account of Motsieloa arriving in London ten days before Caluza, only to find that he had left his music behind in South Africa. It was up to his wife, Emily Motsieloa, to then have them posted to him in the UK.72Gallo’s first masters were recorded in London at Metropole Industries Limited73 in 1930 and 1931 and issued on the company’s new Singer label. The matrix numbers of these early recordings generally have the prefix EG (for Eric Gallo). Some of the pressings from the London period do not have the EG prefix making them difficult to differentiate from early Johannesburg matrix numbers, which also had no prefix.74 Afrikaans recordings were issued with a green and gold label and an EG coupling number prefix while “Bantu” recordings (the term used by Gallo for recordings in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, and so on) were issued with a black and gold label and a GE catalogue number prefix (as seen in the example above.)

Along with three South African students living in the UK, Samuel Putsoane, Conference Setlogelo and Ignatius Monare,75 Motsieloa cut over 40 tracks for Gallo at Metropole in 1930 making up the first 22 discs in the company’s so-called “Bantu” catalogue (GE 1 – 22). One of these tracks included Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (GE 13) with the four singers accompanied by piano. Motsieloa returned to the UK in early 1931 to record additional material for Gallo, and tracks from both sessions can be heard on the excellent CD compilation that accompanies Christopher Ballantine’s book Marabi Nights, recently reissued in 2012. Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika was also recently reissued on an equally good four CD set, Opika Pende, compiled by Jonathan Ward.76

Griffiths Motsieloa was born in Basutholand (now Lesotho) in 1896. He travelled widely and studied elocution at Trinity College of Music in London after obtaining a teaching qualification at Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape. In 1929 he married Emily Makanana, a pianist and leader of an all-women group the Dangerous Blues.77 Together they would perform in his vaudeville troupe the Darktown Strutters before it was succeeded by the Pitch Black Follies in 1936.78

Motsieloa was subsequently hired by Gallo as a “talent-scout” becoming South Africa’s first black record producer. This opportunity allowed for a steady income, so much so, that in 1932 he quit teaching to concentrate on a full-time stage career. While at Gallo he was responsible for bringing in another historic performer, Solomon Linda and his Original Evening Birds, who recorded the iconic Mbube in 1939.

1941 late or early 1942
Nkosi Sikelela ‘i Afrika
Gallotone, GE 951, GB 951, matrix 1852
Recorded probably in JohannesburgThis version was recorded in late 1941 or early 1942 by the Singer Sacred Choir and was probably originally issued on the Gallo’s Singer label as GE 951. The highest coupling number I have seen on the Singer label is GE 959. The recording could have been made by Hugh Tracey as the reissue label carries the name of his “African Music Research” unit that was established in 1947 at Gallo Records. Eric Gallo had provided Tracey the financial support for the project, a place to work and agreed to publish a potion of his recordings on 78 rpm disc under the Gallotone label.79 What is odd though is that the name of the choir carries the Singer name, the label from a time before Tracey joined the company. It is possible that this recording was one that Tracey found in the Gallo archives and simply reissued under his project name. Another oddity is that this disc GE 951(matrix 1852) is backed by the Xhosa Sacred Singers singing Bawo wetu ose zulweni (matrix 1580); whereas another later reissue GB 951 carries a different track on the reverse side. Interestingly that track, Lalelani Izingelosi, was recorded at the same session as Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika by the Singer Sacred Choir (matrix 1850). View the images of GE 951 at flatinternational.
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (on B-side with Morena Boloka)
HMV EP, 7EYJ6, matrix 7TAS 162This His Master’s Voice EP, titled Africa Calls, features two tracks by the gospel group the King’s Messengers Quartet on side A and then a track each of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and Morena Boloka by the New Mission Choir on side B. See Stanza 2 below for more information about this record.
late 1960 or early 1961
Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika (B-side is Morena Boloka)
Gallotone, GB 3219, ABC 20065This excellent recording of the two “African National Anthems” together on one disc can be heard on the Gallotone 78 rpm by the Orlando Choristers (Gallotone, GB 3219) probably issued in late 1961 or early 1962. Here Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika is credited to Sontonga while Morena Boloka remains uncredited. The timing of this particular issue is striking, given the events that followed the Sharpeville massacre in March of 1960: that being the States of Emergency, the banning of the ANC and PAC, the house arrest of ANC leader, Albert Luthuli, the attempted assassination of then Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd, and the apparent suppression of any performance of these songs.What began as a religious song had become political — performed at meetings, rallies and gatherings of defiance. It is my understanding that the songs, or at least Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, were banned, however I have yet to find a date for this or an official reference. Perhaps the South African authorities forbade the performance of the songs in political contexts, and maybe it was tolerated in religious or cultural contexts. Certainly it is ironic that Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, was adopted in 1963 as a national anthem by the newly formed legislative assembly of the Transkei “Bantustan”, with full support of the South African government. See more about this recording in Stanza 2 below.
Narrated by Peter Finch
(with ANC refugees in Tanganyika now Tanzania)
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (includes Morena Boloka)
Ember Records, CEL 905 (Made in the UK)
See Stanza 2 below for more information about this record.
(ANC refugees in Tanganyika now Tanzania)
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (includes Morena Boloka)
Folkways, FW 5588 (Made in the USA)
See Stanza 2 below for more information about this record.STANZA 2
“Morena Boloka” in SesothoMorena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa, South Afrika — South Afrika.Lord we ask You to protect our nation
Intervene and end all conflicts
Protect us, protect our nation
Protect South Africa, South Africa80To my ear, Morena Boloka, sounds like a completely different tune from that of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika. And yet by many accounts, the tune is supposed to be the Sotho version or ‘translation’ of the Sontonga’s famous anthem. In his seminal book In Township Tonight David Coplan suggests that “the Sotho verse [was] entirely new and not derived in any way from Sontonga’s or Mqhayi’s Xhosa verses,” and furthermore “was added to promote African Unity by the ANC” and that they “necessarily [changed] the melody due to differences in semantic tone.”81 I interpret Coplan’s account to affirm my suspicion that Morena Boloka might simply be derived from a completely separate and unique song.

Coplan in a separate paper from 2002, also suggests that Morena Boloka was “apparently composed and first published in 1942 by Moses Mphahlele.”82 This attribution is, likewise, mentioned widely on a number of reputable websites, though in my online research I was unable to find the original source for this claim. To my knowledge, the first recording of Morena Boloka predates much of this conjecture by thirteen years and was made by the Wilberforce Institute Singers under the direction of Dr. Francis Herman Gow, around July 1929.

1929 cJuly
Morena Boloka (God Save the Race)
Conducted by Dr. F. H. Gow
Regal, GR 10, WEA 203
(Many thanks to Liezl Visagie at ILAM for sending me the label images.)This recording was made by the same traveling unit sent to South Africa by the Columbia Graphophone Company mentioned earlier. The track was issued on their Regal label with the coupling number GR 10, though, like all versions of Morena Boloka in my research, the composer remains uncredited on the label.83 Interestingly, the so-called B-side features another hymn sung by the Wilberforce Institute Singers, Leeto Le Tsenyebo Ea Sekepe Sa Mendi, and this one is attributed to Moses Mphahlele. Certainly the fact that his name appears on one side of the same disc suggests that there is definitely a connection between Mphahlele, Gow, the Wilberforce Singers and Morena Boloka. The absence of a composer credit on a disc is nothing new, but the fact that Mphahlele is specifically mentioned on one side and not the other suggests perhaps a song that, at that time, could not be attributed or perhaps one that was deemed historically “traditional”. Likewise, if Sontonga was viewed as the author, his name would have been credited.

Moses Mphahlele, a teacher, interpreter, poet and musician, was born in Pietersburg in 1895 and was the ANC Secretary in the Transvaal during the 1920s.84 He died in 1957 and a ceremony at his gravesite can be viewed on YouTube.

The Wilberforce Institute (now Community College) was founded in Evaton outside Johannesburg in 1908 by Charlotte Manye (later Maxexe), the first president of the ANC Women’s League.85 She named the school for the Ohio-based Wilberforce University where she had studied under, amongst others, W.E.B. Du Bois. Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), this American historically black university (HBCU) opened in 1856 and was the first to be owned and operated by African-Americans.86

Francis Herman Gow, born in Cape Town in 1890 (Erlmann has 1887), was of Jamaican decent though some accounts have it that his mother was African-American while his father, Rev. Francis McDonald Gow, was Jamaican.87 Francis M. Gow (the senior) was a pastor in the AME ministry at Bethel Memorial Church in Cape Town from 1900-193188and according to James Cambell, one of the “most important purveyors of African-American sacred music in South Africa.”89 Taking advantage of scholarships, Gow arranged for his three children to be educated in the United States, with Francis Herman Gow travelling there perhaps as early as 1906 to study first at the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.90 Like Manye, Gow (the junior) also studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio and subsequently taught at Phelps Hall Bible Training School in Tuskegee91 before returning to South Africa in the early 1920s. According to Erlmann he spent some time as a music teacher at the Zonnebloem Training College in Cape Town and then in 1925, remarkably, wrote and produced a show titled Up from Slavery.92

For six years in the 1920s and 30s, Gow was the principal at Wilberforce Institute in Evaton. In Johannesburg, the Wilberforce choir under his direction gave a live radio performance of Jubilee songs in April of 1927.93 Certainly this must have been broadcast by the newly formed African Broadcast Company (ABC, the precursor to the SABC), which had just been established, with permission from Government, by the Schlesinger Organisation on April 1st that same year.94

In July of 1929, the choir, as the Wilberforce Institute Singers, then recorded at least fourteen tracks,95 including Morena Boloka, for the visiting Columbia unit. Erlmann points out that these recordings “constitute the earliest recorded evidence of spiritual singing in South Africa and share many of the stylistic features of the older American university choirs and quartets.” He goes on to say that “Gow’s recordings had a far reaching effect on the popularity of Afro-American sacred music in South Africa and led to the formation of a new South African school of quartet singing.”96

The known recordings by The Wilberforce Institute Singers conducted by F. Herman Gow, cJuly 1929 are listed below. (Note that the recordings are arranged in the order of their WEA prefix matrix numbers. However the early Columbia recordings from the 1929 sessions also have an additional five-digit matrix, only visible in the lead-out of the shellac that could possibly suggest a different chronological order. The listed composer follows the song title, which is followed by the label name and its coupling number. Click on the link to listen to the record in the ILAM archive.)

The Wilberforce Institute Singers, cJuly, 1929
WEA 201     Masigo A Sele (Regal, GR 4)
WEA 202     Sanibona (Reuben T. Caluza) (Regal, GR 13)
WEA 203     Morena Boloka (Regal, GR 10)
WEA 205     Baruti Ba Bacha (Regal, GR 4)
WEA 209     It’s Me O Lord (Columbia, AE 3)
WEA 211     Bye and Bye (Columbia, AE 3)
WEA 212     Sussanah (Columbia, OE 9)
WEA 213     Uncedo! (Columbia, OE 9)
WEA 214     Leeto Le Tsenyebo Ea Sekepe Sa Mendi (Moses Mphahlele) (Regal, GR 10)
WEA 216     Ke Ngoana Hao (Bonnet) (Columbia, OE 9)
WEA 217     Lizalis’ Idinga Iakho (John Knox Bokwe) (Columbia, OE 4)
WEA 218     Njenge Badi (Ntsiko) (Columbia, OE 4)
WEA             O Mary Don’t You Weep (Regal, GR 7)
WEA             Shout All Over God’s Heaven (Regal, GR 7)

The fact that Morena Boloka, like Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, was recorded on such an early occasion in 1929 does suggest that the song was viewed, even then, as important and significant. Unlike Plaatje’s Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, however, there are no earlier examples of the tune in the Zonophone catalogue. View the disc at flatinternational.

Morena Boloka (on B-side with Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika)
HMV EP, 7EYJ6, matrix 7TAS 162Generally, later recordings of Morena Boloka from the 1950s and 1960s are always accompanied by but not combined with Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika on the reverse or same side. In most cases Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika is credited to Sontonga whereas Morena Boloka remains uncredited in all. An example of this can be heard on the HMV EP Africa Calls which features two a cappella “spiritual” tracks by the Kings Messengers Quartet on side A and then what is referred to in the liner notes as the “African National Anthems… sung in Zulu [and]… sung in Sotho” by the New Church Mission Choir on side B (His Master’s Voice, 7EYJ 6).The Kings Messengers Quartet’s track There is No Disappointment in Heaven was hugely popular and featured on a number of compilation LPs at that time. Recorded in 1959, the track was first issued on 78 rpm (His Master’s Voice, JP 501)97 and it is likely that the EP followed shortly after, that same year or possibly in 1960. It is interesting that the title of this EP, Africa Calls, in some ways, perhaps unintentionally, references the title of the English version of the then newly approved South African national anthem: The Call of South Africa.
late 1960 or early 1961
Morena Boloka (A-side is Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika)
Gallotone, GB 3219, ABC 20066Another excellent recording of the two “African National Anthems” together on one disc can be heard on the Gallotone 78 rpm by the Orlando Choristers (Gallotone, GB 3219) probably issued in late 1961 or early 1962. Here Nkosi Sikelel iAfrikais credited to Sontonga while Morena Bolokaremains uncredited. The timing of this particular issue is striking, given the events that followed the Sharpeville massacre in March of 1960: that being the States of Emergency, the banning of the ANC and PAC, the house arrest of ANC leader, Albert Luthuli, the attempted assassination of then Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd, and the apparent suppression of performing these songs.What began as religious songs had become political — performed at meetings, rallies and gatherings of defiance. It is my understanding that the songs, or at least Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, were banned, however I have yet to find a date for this or an official reference stating such. Perhaps the South African authorities forbade the performance of the songs in political contexts, and maybe it was tolerated in religious or cultural contexts. Certainly it is ironic that Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, was adopted in 1963 as a national anthem by the newly formed legislative assembly of the Transkei “Bantustan”, with full support of the South African government.Strangely, a footnote in the book The Black Homelands of South Africa mentions that Morena Boloka was sung as an “indigenous anthem” at the conclusion of the legislative assembly in the former “homeland” of Bophuthatswana. The note goes on to say that the “hymn is generally recognized as something akin to a Southern Sotho national anthem, which emphasizes Sotho identity, and, unlike Nkosi Sikelel, has no all-African referent.”98 This does strike me as rather odd given that the official anthem of that state was Lefatshe la Borrarona in Setswana.99Certainly if the songs were banned by the South African Government, and I am not sure if it is clear that they were, then this oddly translated and unintentionally revealing bilingual statement from the official, government-issued Bantu Education Journal of 1969 shows an incredible example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to:

“ASSEBLIEF sprekers, wees die amptelike tale genadig!
Ten slotte vra one: sing aan die end net een volkslied; sing “Morena Boloka Seshaba sa geso” OR “Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika”. Om altwee te sing is ongemotiveerd en dit rek net die program uit.

Speakers, PLEASE, have mercy upon the official languages!

In conclusion we ask: At the the end, do sing only one national anthem. Either sing “Morena Boloka Seshaba sa geso” OR “Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika”, for to sing both is uncalled-for and draws out the programme unnecessarily.”100

It is not clear to me when the practice of singing Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika followed by Morena Boloka began. Certainly both songs were sung after various official ceremonies and proceedings for example a 1959 commemorative booklet documenting the “Final Ceremony” at the University College of Fort Hare includes this description: “After the singing of Gaudeamus Igitur and Amici usque as Aras and a scripture reading and prayer by the Reverend E.L Cragg, addresses were delivered. The Assembly closed with the pronouncement of the Benediction by Archdeacon H.P. Rolfe and the singing of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and Morena Boloka – two National Anthems of the Bantu Peoples”101

Narrated by Peter Finch
(with ANC refugees in Tanganyika now Tanzania)
Morena Boloka (includes Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika)
Ember Records, CEL 905 (Made in the UK)
(ANC refugees in Tanganyika now Tanzania)
Morena Boloka (includes Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika)
Folkways, FW 5588 (Made in the USA, issued 1965)
(View the liner notes at flatinternational.)The practice of singing one anthem after the other is without a doubt a precursor to the current anthem of South Africa where the first stanza is taken from Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and the second from Morena Boloka.The earliest recorded example that I have found of a combined version of the two songs comes from a series of “freedom songs” made by ANC exiles in what was then called Tanganyika (now Tanzania) probably in 1964. Some of these songs were first issued as the B-side of an LP recording issued in the UK titled Why I am Ready to Die by Nelson Mandela featuring a narrated version, by actor Peter Finch, of Mandela’s famous statement from the dock, during the Rivonia Trial, from April 20, 1964.The UK based group Christian Action, an anti-apartheid organisation, established the Defence and Aid Fund, in order to assist those individuals and their families on trial. They approached Peter Finch and then Ember records to produce the record with all sales benefiting the aid fund.More of the freedom songs including those first issued on the Christian Action record were then included on the Folkways LP This Land is Mine issued in the United States in 1965. Folkways, a cornerstone of folk music recording in the United States, also featured international and sometimes less commercial music. The label was originally founded by Moses Asch as Asch records. Many of the LPs included detailed liner-note inserts and the example in this case mentioned an unattributed statement from a letter sent to Moses Asch:

“To M.A. I am sending you by airmail the following reels of tape, which I think you can put together to make a fine LP of South African Freedom Songs. They were all recorded in Tanganyika by young people who are refugees from South Africa. Some had only escaped from there 5 days previously. Some have death sentences hanging over their heads if they go back at this time. For this reason no photographs of them could be taken, and the main address I am giving you is that of their organization, the African National Congress, which helps feed and clothe them while they are in Tanganyika.”102

It is my thought that Christian Action may have sent Moses Asch the tapes. Further down Asch’s text is another paragraph which almost alludes to the Aberystwythconnection to Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika:

“This song [Nkosialso gives a hint as to the origin of African freedom songs in South Africa. This song is a hymn, a prayer. And indeed the earlier freedom songs were adaptions of well known church songs with words changed to reflect political demands.”103

“Die Stem” in Afrikaans

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Out of the blue of our heavens
Out of the depths of our seas
Over our everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound104

Cornelis Jacob Langenhoven, an Afrikaans poet wrote the Die Stem, a patriotic poem with three verses in May of 1918. Born on a farm near Ladismith in the Klein Karoo in 1873, he was an educator, solicitor and the editor of a local Dutch newspaper. At that time English and Dutch were the two ‘official’ languages of South Africa while, for many, Afrikaans was simply viewed as a creolized language of convenience and often derogatively referred to as “kitchen-Dutch”. Langenhoven was a proud and ardent supporter of Afrikaans and wrote extensively in support for it to be accepted in an official capacity. He is quoted as having said: “If Dutch is our Language, we must speak it, if Afrikaans is our Language, we must write it”.105 Afrikaans was officially adopted alongside English as the national language of South Africa in 1925.

By some accounts, Langenhoven had composed music for his poem, but critics did not entirely approve of the version and so a competition, sponsored by the newly formed Cape Town newspaper, Die Burger, was organised in 1919. Interestingly the founding editor of that paper, D.F. Malan, would become South Africa’s Prime Minister under the National Party when they took power in 1948. Finally the poem was set to music composed by Marthinus Lourens de Villiers and completed on May 31, 1920,106 the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Union of South Africa. Though most accounts have the final date for the composition as 1921.

De Villiers, was born in Paarl in the Cape in 1885, three years before his parents would open a music institute in Wellington. His mother, possibly of English heritage, taught him piano and his father, the organ, violin and harmony. He would subsequently also play clarinet in his father’s brass band. De Villiers’s was a composer, but also a pastor and educator. Seeing the destruction of the the Anglo-Boer war left him with a deep desire to identify with his Afrikaner roots and he, until his death in 1977, remained “a pro-Afrikaner volksman”.107

In a 1975 interview De Villiers said that he had composed the music while living in Simontowns, a village on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula. He was looking out the window one day watching the waves crash on the beach with a backdrop of the Cape mountains and a clear blue sky:

“Net daar het ek die musiek vir Uit die blou van onse Hemel, uit die diepte van ons see, in my voel opwelm en dit dadelik neergeskryf.”108

As mentioned earlier, Langenhoven’s poem originally had only three verses, but a fourth verse was added, by some accounts at the request of the government, to bolster a religious theme. It is not clear to me at what point in the development of the anthem this occurred.

The first recording of the future anthem took place in London in 1926 and was made by Betty Steyn.

1926 August 12
De Stem van Zuid-Afrika (de Villiers)
Zonophone, 4172, matrix Bb8823-1

Like Sol Plaatje’s Nkosi Sikelel iAfrikaDie Stem van Suid-Afrika was also first recorded on the pioneering series issued by Zonophone in the UK. Although the recordings were separated by nearly three years they were, numerically, practically issued back-to-back with the coupling number for Nkosi being 4168 and that of Die Stem being 4172. Of note is that Alan Kelly’s discographical research of the Zonophone T-series lists the title of Steyn’s recording in Dutch rather than Afrikaans and De Villiers is credited alone without Langenhoven.109 The SAMAP listing for this same record has the title in Afrikaans, which might suggest that the original label was in Afrikaans rather than Dutch, assuming that Kelly’s research was based on internal Gramophone Company documents. As mentioned above it should be noted that Afrikaans only replaced Dutch as an official language in South Africa in 1925. Steyn made eight recordings of nine tunes at the Hayes studios in London for the Zonophone label and these included in chronological order based on matrix numbers:

Betty Steyn with J. Brath on piano, August 11, 1926
Bb8808-1     Ons Moeders (Mia Hofmeyr) (4171, X-43781)
Bb8809-1     Slam Pam Perliedjie (Wierts) (4171, X-43782)

Betty Steyn with J. Brath on piano, August 12, 1926
Bb8822-1     Afrikaans Wiegeliedjie (E Hullebrock) (4172, X-43783)
Bb8823-1     De Stem van Zuid Afrika (de Villiers) (4172, X-43784)
Bb8824-1     De Lig Blou Meer (de Villiers) (4173, X-43785)
Bb8825-1     Ik Ken ‘n Liefste Volksman (de Villiers) (4173, X-43786)
Bb8826-1     Klaas Vakie (Wierts) (4174, X-43787)
Bb8827-1     a) Wiegeliedjie (Endler)
b) Wag-hondjies (Wierts) (4174, Bb8827-1)

While the Die Stem van Suid-Afrika was recorded in 1926, and therefore in the smallest literal sense must have already been performed in public, it was only first “publicly performed”, by most accounts, on Union Day, May 31st 1928 in Cape Town.110

1929 or 1933
Die Stem Van Suid-Afrika
Columbia, LE 72, WEA 995
Could be reissued on Columbia, DE 301

A subsequent orchestral recording of De Villiers composition alone was made by the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra in what I am guessing was 1929 by the visiting Columbia unit and issued on the Columbia blue label. This recording carries the same WEA prefixed matrix numbers that can be found on the first recordings facilitated by Hugh Tracey, in July of 1929. Tracey’s recordings were made in Johannesburg and it seems rather unlikely that the orchestra would travel from Cape Town to make a recording. However the Cape Town Orchestra did travel throughout South Africa at that time and we know that the Columbia unit visited Cape Town in 1933. It is possible that that unit visited both cities on both occasions, but at the moment I can only verify that it was in Johannesburg in 1929 and Cape Town in 1933. One detail that supports my thought that the recording was made on the earlier 1929 visit is that this record is one of the last to carry the five-digit Columbia matrix mentioned earlier. My current thinking is that these were used on the 1929 recordings only and the system was subsequently abandoned after the company merged with Gramophone Company to form EMI. Of course it is possible that the unit came on other occasions after 1929 and before 1933.

The flip side of this disc includes the track Botha’s Boys composed by past conductor of the orchestra Theo Wendt. This marching song had first been recorded by a visiting unit sent out by the Edison Bell company in 1924 and issued on their Velvet Face label. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra made their first performance in February of 1914 in the Cape Town City Hall with Theo Wendt conducting. Wendt resigned in May 1924 and was succeeded by Leslie Howard who was subsequently replaced by William J. Pickerill early in 1927.111 Pickerill remained until October 1946 and it is he who is conducting the Orchestra on these Columbia recordings.

Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
Columbia, LE 78

It is likely that this version sung by soprano Cecelia Wessels was recorded by the Columbia unit that visited Cape Town in 1933. Though without seeing the disc directly it is hard to say. Wessels was born in Bloemfontein on August 7, 1895 and studied at the South African College of Music in Cape Town before moving onto further studies in London in the early 1920s. It is interesting to note that she performed at the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria during the Voortrekker Centenary Festival in December of 1938.112 (More about this event below.) A humorous detail in her career that reveals her dedication is mentioned in the South African Music Encycopedia (SAME). She was asked to fill in at the very last moment for a Festival event in the Cango Caves in 1967, after another singer had cancelled. I did say Cango Caves — a beautiful and yet treacherous environment! Subsequently Wessels had to drive overnight to Oudshoorn at the age of 72.113

A number of additional recordings were made of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika and issued on various label such as His Master Voice, Winner and Broadcast Twelve. I have not seen or heard these discs and without the matrix numbers it is hard to say when they may have been recorded. To be sure they are all pre-war recordings and most were probably made in the 1930s. I have listed these below:

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
Winner, J 3
(source SAME)

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
Winner, J 24
(source SAME)

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
Broadcast Twelve, CTC 1006
(source SAME)

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
HMV, FJ 48
(source SAME)

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
HMV, FJ 83
(source SAME)

unknown date
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
HMV, GX 518
(source SAME)

Die Stem van Suid-Afrika
HMV, FJ 142

The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (FAK) or Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies was formed in Bloemfontein in 1929 with the main objective of promoting Afrikaans with a co-ordinated and constructive agenda.114 The organisation also had the goal of reaching a consensus amongst Afrikaners on an anthem in Afrikaans that could be sung side-by-side with God Save the King. The Union of South Africa, then under the dominion of the British Empire, had adopted this anthem with its formation in 1910. In 1936 the FAK finally and unanimously accepted the poem by Langenhoven set to the music of De Villiers as the Afrikaans national anthem.115 It is not clear to me when Die Stem was officially accepted by the government to be played alongside God Save the Queen though it is possible that this had already been taking place since the anthem was first publicly performed in 1928.

Die Stem Van Suid-Afrika
Singer, GE 292 (red label), matrix XYZX 46.

This particular disc is quite unusual in that it was issued with a red Singer label. Most Singer labels for Afrikaans recordings were issued with green labels. Another oddity is that the coupling number GE 292 was reissued or ‘issued’ on the green label also with Die Stem but sung by a completely different group: the ASAF Choir.

Die Stem Van Suid-Afrika
Gallotone Singer, GE 292 (green label), matrix ABC 58.

It is likely that both these tracks were recorded around the time of the Voortrekker Eeufees or the Voortrekker Centenary Festival which took place in 1938. To be sure the opening introduction to the track by the ASAF Koor (Choir) mentions that it was recorded in the year of the Festival. The Voortrekker Centenary Festival was organised by Afrikaner Nationalists and included a re-enactment of the “Great Trek” which had occurred 100 years before when Afrikaner farmers, disgruntled with their situation in the Cape, moved into the interior of South Africa. The Festival re-enactment began in Cape Town on August 8th, 1938116 and ended with the laying of the cornerstone at the site of the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria on December 16th, 1938.117 It is not clear at what point the recording is made during the Festival, but I suspect the later date may be the correct one.

As the South African Music Encyclopedia (SAME) reveals, the ASAF Choir was founded in the home of S.J. Buys in Johannesburg on July 5th, 1920. H.A. Delen, the choir’s first conductor, was soon replaced by Johan Bernard Zulch Keet in 1921 who stayed with the Choir until 1963.118 It is Keet who is conducting the Turffontein Choir on this recording as the spoken introduction points out. The Turffontein Choir was formed in 1924 and was one of several smaller choirs that would rehearse separately. These choirs would then all come together as the ASAF Choir for larger events. The choir featured at many official events like the one on this disc and was sought after for other Afrikaans cultural festivals.119 Note that this is the same Choir under Keet that sings the official bilingual production of Die Stem and The Call issued by the SABC in 1960. More about this recording below.

Die Stem Van Suid-Afrika
Philips, SA 27

Possibly one of the sweetest versions of the anthem I have heard sung in Afrikaans but with a definite German accent.

Die Stem van Suid-Afrika / The Call of South Africa
Conducted by J.B.Z. Keet, Pierre Malan and Anton Hartman respectively
SABC Transcription Service, LT 1735/6

The Boer War between colonial England and the two Boer republics ended in 1902 and subsequently in 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a dominion of the British Empire. In the 1920s, a compromise between Afrikaner Nationalists on one side, and the pro-British English-speaking population on the other — both white — was for the country to have two flags and two anthems: the Union Flag flown side by side with the Union Jack and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika sung together with God Save the King (or Queen).

The role played by Eban Dönges in the eventual adoption of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika as the only official national anthem is quite interesting as is revealed in Anton Ettiene Bekker’s biography.120 Dönges was acting Prime Minister of South Africa for eight days after the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd in September of 1966, but was subsequently replaced by B.J. Vorster. He was then elected State President in June of 1967, but before taking office fell into a coma after having a stroke, and eventually died in January 1968.121

When the National Party came into power in 1948, beyond implementing grand-apartheid, the Afrikaner nationalists also had an agenda of transforming the Union into a Republic and declaring independence from Britain by leaving the British Commonwealth. Part of the goal was to figure out a strategy of stripping the country of its British colonial symbols. Dönges, joined D.F. Malan’s cabinet as the Minister of the Interior in June of 1948. Sixteen months later in September of 1949, the Afrikaanse Taal en Kutuuvereniging (ATKV) or Afrikaans Language and Culture Organisation wrote to Dönges stating that in order to establish national unity, that Die Stem van Suid-Afrikashould be declared the only national anthem, and a version should be translated into English. In September 1950, Donges established a committee, chaired by H.A Fagan, to work on a legitimate translation.122 Dönges as Bekker points out was quite enthusiastic about the whole project and even translated some lines of the anthem himself:

“‘n Aanduiding van hoe entoesiasties Dönges was, is die veit dat hy self sy hand gewaag het aan die vertaling van sommige strofes en ook veranderinge aangebring het aan van die voorstelle wat ontvang is en later as “The Call of South Africa” die lig gesien het”.123

Subsequently the English translation became known as “The Call of South Africa” and was first published in 1952 and also accepted for official use. But as the matter was still quite controversial, both the Union Jack and God Save the Queen were also still officially used. Moreover both anthems continued to be played after various non-official events, such as at the close of radio broadcasts, or at the end of films in theatres. All the while the Nationalists continued to advocate a position of one flag, one anthem as the only path to achieve comprehensive national unity. In February 1954 a National Party MP, J.P. Basson submitted a motion to the assembly calling for a single flag and anthem. Within two weeks the management of African Consolidated Theatres dropped the British anthem from the close of screenings. Support for the elimination of the dual anthem reached a crossroad when two conservative English-speaking members of Parliament, Arthur Barlow and Frank Wearing, advocated for the single flag, single anthem policy, in March 1956, with Die Stem van Suid-Africa as the only national anthem.124

Interestingly, as Bekker reveals, the debates that followed in the House of Assembly proved to be quite heated. For example, Douglas Mitchell, a United Party MP, rejected the motion on account that it bred division, but also noted that there was an additional anthem being sung by millions of black South Africans: Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.

“Die Verenigde Party se Douglas Mitchell (Natalse Suidkus) het die mosie verwerp omdat dit ‘n sensitiewe saak was wa verdeeldheid aangewakker het. Hy het daarop gewys dat daar nog ‘n volkslied – Nkosi Sikele iAfrika – is wat deur miljoene swartes in die Unie gesing is.”125

The motion at that time however was tabled. But support both in the Afrikaans and surprisingly in the English press for the single flag, single anthem policy continued. In March 1957 Barlow, the conservative English-speaking MP, this time submitted a private bill to Parliament calling for the Union flag to be adopted. Dönges, as Bekker continues, suggested that a single flag by implication also implies a single anthem, though the anthem did not require a legislative amendment. Thus it was left to Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom, to declare in parliament on May 2nd 1957 that Die Stem van Suid-Afrikawould be the only national anthem of the country.126

The controversy was felt worldwide within the British Commonwealth and made the front pages of papers like the Ottawa Citizen. Dönges, the newspaper reported, had to roll back Strijdom’s statement somewhat by saying that God Save the Queen would still be played at official functions where appropriate.127 The British anthem though from then on was dropped. South Africa would eventually leave the Commonwealth and become a Republic on May 31st, 1961.

The government sought to claim the copyright of Die Stem van Suid Afrika from the estate of Langenhoven and officially acquired the rights to the poem in the Copyright Act of 1959.128 View a PDF of that document here.

“The Call” in English

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom
In South Africa our land.

A direct translation of the Die Stem van Suid-Afrika in English is “the voice of South Africa”, but the official English version was always known as The Call of South Africawhich had been constructed from various translations and set to the same music composed by M.L. De Villiers. On May 2, 1957, Die Stem was unanimously accepted by the then South African parliament as the only official national anthem of South Africa with The Call, the English translation, being approved on November 26th that same year.129

It is interesting to note that the words “the call” are used in the first line of the only stanza of the new anthem that has been severely modified from its original version. Below is the opening stanza of the original 1957 version of The Call in English. The first two lines represent the Afrikaans third stanza (or Die Stem) in the current version of the anthem. The fourth English stanza of the current version is derived in part from the last three lines of the original English version. Of course the new lyrics have been heavily adapted but there are a number of themes and words (that I have underlined below) that are common to both new and old versions.

Ringing out from our blue heavens, from our deep seas breaking round;
Over everlasting mountains where the echoing crags resound;
From our plains where creaking wagons cut their trails into the earth –
Calls the spirit of our country, of the land that gave us birth.
At thy call we shall not falter, firm and steadfast we shall stand,
At thy will to live or perish, O South Africa, dear land.130

Die Stem van Suid-Afrika / The Call of South Africa
Conducted by J.B.Z. Keet, Pierre Malan and Anton Hartman respectively
SABC Transcription Service, LT 1735/6To my knowledge, the first recording of the original English version of The Call was issued on an SABC transcription disc in what I am assuming was 1960. This assumption is based on the fact that the back cover carries the red Union Festival Emblem of the fiftieth anniversary of the Union of South African, which took place in May 1960. The recording may have occurred earlier somewhere between 1957 and 1960. Transcription discs were for the most part issued in limited pressings with generic covers and distributed to radio stations around South Africa and internationally. This particular disc is unique in that it came with a specially designed cover and detailed liner notes and may have been issued as a collectable for the general public.What was to become a standard procedure in ‘white’ South Africa, the disc was issued completely bilingually in English and Afrikaans. Side A in Afrikaans was exactly the same as side B in English and both sides featured four versions of the anthem: the full version sung with orchestra; an orchestral rendition alone; unaccompanied readings of the anthem by Jan Schutte in Afrikaans and Philip Burgers in English; and then an identical military version played by the Band of the South African Air Force directed by Captain J. E. Koops van’t Jagt.The only difference between the two sides (other than the obvious language differences) can be found in the liner notes. The English text includes this sentence: “The English version, compiled from various individual translations, was officially approved by the Government in 1957” while the Afrikaans translation omits this detail.131 Perhaps this omission reflects the continuation of long-felt acrimony between the two so-called ‘white’ language and therefore cultural groups in South Africa that had existed since, at least, the Boer Wars and, perhaps to a lesser extent, continues today. What is implied in this phrasing in the liner notes is this: explaining in Afrikaans where the English translation came from needs no explanation, because the Afrikaans version is the ‘only version’ and ‘derivatives’ need no explanation.Having said that, I seldom recall singing the English version of the anthem as a youth growing up in Durban in the 1970s and 80s. Durban of course, at that time, was considered to be the most ‘English’ of South African cities. As I read the 1957 English lyrics, they seem quite unfamiliar to me, though mind you anything beyond the first stanza of the Afrikaans version seems for me to be ‘lost in the grass’. Perhaps for that reason it was the English lyrics that were open to be radically altered in the new version of the anthem without the fear of too much recrimination.

The new words for the English stanza were proposed by the Anthem Committee, which had been established, at the request of President Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet, by then Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Ben Ngubane, in January of 1995.132The committee had been called on to come up with a new shorter anthem to replace the interim one that had been adopted by former President F.W. de Klerk (on the advice of the Transitional Executive Council) on April 20, 1994.133 That interim anthem included combined full versions of both Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika and lasted a whopping 5 minutes and 22 seconds.134

The committee included Anna Bender, Elize Botha, Richard Cock, Dolf Havemann (Secretary), Mzilikazi Khumalo (Chairman), Masizi Kunene, John Lenake, Fatima Meer, Khabi Mngoma, Wally Serote, Johan de Villiers and Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.135

But it is widely acknowledged that the new orchestral setting and the additional English words were composed by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, a professor in the Department of Music at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. To be sure the credit is listed in her list of compositions and biography at her official website.136

Zaider-Rudolph was born in Pretoria in 1948. Her education included studies at the University of Pretoria, the Royal College of Music in London, as well as with avant-garde composer György Ligeti. In 1979 Zaider-Rudolph became the first woman to receive a doctorate in composition in South Africa.137

Given Zaider-Rudolph’s “neo-modal” approach of “starting in one key and ending in another”,138 I would like to think that some very small (make that microscopic) DNA trace of her tutor, Gygory Ligeti, can be found in the current anthem. Not being a student of music composition myself, perhaps this thought betrays my own naivety on the subject, but certainly Ligeti was a major influence on her education.139

In a November 2009 interview with David O’Sullivan on Talk Radio 702, Zaider-Rudolh discusses her role in the new anthem. In this account she mentions that President Mandela had requested that the anthem not be longer than 1 minute and 48 seconds. This of course was the average length of 27 national anthems that had been consulted for reference by the Anthem Committee. She goes on to say that the old composite anthem had to be seriously chopped by “getting rid of repetitions” but also the committee had to be careful “not to intrude on the meaning of the words.”140

Of course, on a separate note, the 702 interview was prompted by a notoriously poor performance of the national anthem, by reggae star, Ras Dumasani at an international rugby match between South Africa and France. South Africa lost the match and Dumasani was blamed. View the performance here at YouTube.

Other controversies involving the national anthem surfaced more recently in June of 2012 when issues relating to copyright ‘bubbled-up’ in the South African press (see City Press, June 16th, 2012 and Rapport, June 18th, 2012).141 On June 17th, 2012, SAMRO, the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, posted on their official website, a detailed analysis clarifying their position on the origins of the anthem and its various legal statuses. SAMRO had commissioned Michael S. Levy, a retired musicologist, to do the research. His text was an expanded version of an account of how the current anthem came to fruition, posted on SAMRO’s Facebook page originally on April 10th, 2010.142 (The copyright controversy produced more analysis and for further reading check out “An Anthem to Ignorance” posted on June 18th, 2012 at the website of The Anton Mostert CIP Chair of Intellectual Property at Stellenbosch University.)

Levy’s texts make for an interesting read and he states that the Anthem Committee had determined that certain lyrics from the original anthems had to be dropped in the new version. For example, the third line of Die Stem referring to “die kreun van ossewa” or the “creaking wagons” (in the English version) had to be omitted as the wagons referred to the “Gret Treak” and applied to only one population group.143 He also mentioned that the committee removed “those sections that had words considered unacceptable by some sections of our community”. The Council of Muslim Theologians had submitted to the committee a request to remove the words, “Woza Moya” found in Sontonga’s original version of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika on the grounds that they referenced a “Christian concept of the Holy Trinity.”144

Nevertheless after six months of deliberation, the Anthem Committee made a number of proposals to the Cabinet in July of 1995 and the current anthem was chosen. After a proclamation, No. 68, by President Nelson Mandela in the Government Gazette, No. 18341, dated October 10, 1997145 the shortened and adapted versions of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika (in isiXhosa and isiZulu), Morena Boloka (in Sesotho), Die Stem van Suid-Afrika(in Afrikaans) and The Call of South Africa (in English) were merged and adopted as the official South African National Anthem.


By Siemon Allen