ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

The new dispensation in South Africa in 1994 made for a combo-national anthem, an unusual and thoughtful arrangement.  It has been satisfactory, as far as I know, for most people.

C. J. Langenhoven

           C. J. Langenhoven

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”/ “The Voice” was written by C.J. Langenhoven (lyric) and M. de Villiers (music) between 1919 and 1921.  The lyric is a poetic description of the vast beauty of the country, becoming, in a subsequent stanza a hymn of dedication.  The pain of the Anglo-Boer war, less than 20 years before, was fresh in their minds.

Enoch Sontonga

               Enoch Sontonga

“Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika” was written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897 and is a hymnal prayer embracing the entire continent, asking for blessing and for the “war and suffering” of African people to cease.  It came after a bloody 19th-century and 500 years of slavery.

Rouget de Lisle

                        Rouget de Lisle

“La Marseillaise” was written by Rouget de Lisle during the time of the French Revolution in 1792.  It is a marching song for soldiers.   The lyric is bracing  ̶   “The bloody flag is hoisted”.  Then it goes darker.  “They (the enemy) … cut the throats of our sons and comrades … May their impure blood irrigate our fields.”  And this is against a nameless “tyranny”.

South African flag

                                 South African flag

If the lyrical tones of these three anthems diverge, the music stirs me, yes, burns in my nose.  I heard and sang “The Voice” once a week for many years in the school where I taught and it is part of the seams in my brain.  “Nkosi” I first heard as a schoolboy when the principal bid the working staff to sing it for the school, an experience that I have never forgotten.  The three-to-four-part harmony remains with me.

Impression of the French flag

                      Impression of the French flag

These days the “Marseillaise” is sung more frequently, spontaneously, in public.  It was moving to see the entire French parliament rising to their feet to sing it, something which had not, I believe, happened since World War 1.  It was January, 2015, after the terror attacks in Paris.

A peculiar fate it is to be touched by three national anthems.  Perhaps I should get done and sing “La Internationale”, except that the melody was pilfered in the 1920s in South Africa and the lyrics, in Afrikaans, praise, in a heart-felt way a place of birth, a beautiful farm  ̶  rather different from the original lyrics.  (See “O Boereplaas”)


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016






Enoch Sontongo –

C.J. Langenhoven –

Rouget de Lisle –

South African flag  –  getty

French flag –



One Response to ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

  1. says:

    Thanks WillAn insightful post! 

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