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Which is the only National Anthem with words in 5 different languages?

Answer: the South African anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

This is surely a good way to bring together the different peoples in a country. The song was chosen in 1996 for the new Republic of South Africa. But before that, it was sung for many years by those fighting for freedom in that country, and it became well known around the world. Its beautiful tune and words can still make many people around the world cry, as they remember the suffering in the old South Africa. But where did the song come from?

Who wrote the song?

Enoch Sontonga was a teacher at a Christian school in the town of Johannesburg. He was a good musician and song-writer, and also loved taking photographs. Many of his songs were sad, speaking of the suffering of the African people in his town. He wrote Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica in 1897 in the Xhosa language, as a Christian song. It was first sung in 1899 at a special meeting for the dedication of a new Christian leader, Rev Mboweni.

The song quickly become popular, and in 1912 was used at the first meeting of the SANNC (which became the ANC, the organization of Nelson Mandela). The ANC later chose it as their own special song. Enoch died young at the age of 32, yet he leftthe world this special song which helped many people. For many years, no-one knew where he was buried. Then a careful search was made, and his grave was found again in Johannesburg. In 1996, President Mandela unveiled a memorial at the grave. A special award was given to his grand-daughter Ida Rabotapi, to honour her grandfather.

The words of the song

More words were added to Enoch Sontonga's music by poet Samuel Mqhayi in 1927, and other languages have been added since. The words of many national anthems praise their own country and tell everyone how important it is! But the words of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica are really a prayer (talking to God) asking him to help Africa.

The song asks for these important things:

  • that chiefs will remember God, and honour him
  • that leaders will rule the country wisely, with patience
  • that God's Spirit will come on the country, and
  • that he will bless the youth, women and children

Enoch's words also asked God to remove wickedness from Africa, and to forgive all wrongdoing. This song has helped South Africa to find freedom and healing, without the terrible fighting which happened in some other countries. The reason: it shows that God is the only way that a country can truly find help. The song's words can also help us to understand important truths. We can only be blessed when we see God as the most important person in our lives. We need his help and wisdom in everything we do. This is much better than trying to live our lives using our own strength. And we also need God to forgive us for everything we have done wrong. He will do this when we believe that Jesus has already paid the price for our wrongdoing.

 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Nelson Mandela was president of the ANC, and the first president of the new South Africa. People think of him as the 'father of the nation'. He was born in 1918 in the Transkei area and studied to be a lawyer. (This reminds us of another famous person born in South Africa who fought for his people's freedom, Mahatma Gandhi, who was a lawyer too.)

Although in prison for 18 years (most of that time on Robben Island), Mandela did not become bitter. He has worked to bring healing between the different peoples in South Africa, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.