Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

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Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
English: Lord Bless Africa
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.png

Former co-national anthem of Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa
Former national anthem of Flag of Namibia.svg  Namibia & Flag of Zambia (1964-1996).svg  Zambia
Lyrics Enoch Sontonga, 1897 (1897)
MusicEnoch Sontonga, 1897 (1897)
Adopted10 May 1994 (1994-05-10) (by South Africa)
21 March 1990 (1990-03-21) (by Namibia)
24 October 1964 (1964-10-24) (by Zambia)
Relinquished10 October 1997 (1997-10-10) (by South Africa)
17 December 1991 (1991-12-17) (by Namibia)
14 September 1973 (1973-09-14) (by Zambia)
Preceded by"Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" (South Africa & Namibia)
"God Save the Queen" (Zambia)
Succeeded by"National anthem of South Africa" (South Africa)
"Namibia, Land of the Brave" (Namibia)
"Stand and Sing of Zambia, Proud and Free" (Zambia)
Audio sample
"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" (instrumental)

"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" (Xhosa pronunciation:  [ŋkʼɔsi sikʼɛlɛl‿iafrikʼa] , lit.'Lord Bless Africa') is a Christian hymn originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg.


The song became a pan-African liberation song and versions of it were later adopted as the national anthems of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence, and South Africa after the end of apartheid. The song's melody is still used as the national anthem of Tanzania and the national anthem of Zambia (Zimbabwe and Namibia have since changed to new anthems with original melody composition).

In 1994, [1] Nelson Mandela decreed that the verse of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika be embraced as a joint national anthem of South Africa; a revised version additionally including elements of "Die Stem" (the then co-state anthem inherited from the previous apartheid government) was adopted in 1997. This new South African national anthem is sometimes referred to as "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" although it is not its official name.

The hymn is also often considered the unofficial African "national" anthem. According to anthropologist David Coplan: "'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' has come to symbolize more than any other piece of expressive culture the struggle for African unity and liberation in South Africa." [2]


Enoch Sontonga, Composer of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika Sontonga.jpg
Enoch Sontonga, Composer of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
Hummed rendition of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika"
"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", then the national anthem of South Africa, played by a US military band in 1994 as part of an official state visit by South African president Nelson Mandela to Washington, DC.

"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was originally composed as a hymn in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg. Some claim the melody is based on the hymn "Aberystwyth" by Joseph Parry, [3] though others have called the connection far fetched. [4] The words of the first stanza and chorus were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas [5] were added by the poet Samuel Mqhayi. Sontonga originally composed the hymn in B-flat major with a four-part harmony supporting a repetitive melody characteristic of "both Western hymn composition and indigenous South African melodies." [6] The hymn was taken up by the choir of Ohlange High School, whose co-founder served as the first president of the South African Native National Congress. It was sung to close the Congress meeting in 1912, and by 1925 it had become the official closing anthem of the organisation, now known as the African National Congress. [7] "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was first published in 1927. [7] The song was the official anthem for the African National Congress during the apartheid era and was a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. [8] For decades during the apartheid regime it was considered by many to be the unofficial national anthem of South Africa, representing the suffering of the oppressed masses. Because of its connection to the ANC, the song was banned by the regime during the apartheid era. [9]

Use today

South Africa

In 1994, after the end of apartheid, the new President of South Africa Nelson Mandela declared that both "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" and the previous national anthem, "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" (English: "The Call of South Africa") would be national anthems. While the inclusion of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" celebrated the newfound freedom of most South Africans, the fact that "Die Stem" was also retained even after the fall of apartheid, represented the desire of the new government led by Mandela to respect all races and cultures in an all-inclusive new era dawning upon South Africa. During this period, the custom was to play "Die Stem" together with "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" during occasions that required the playing of a national anthem. [10] [11] [12]

In 1996, a shortened, combined version of the two compositions was released as the new national anthem of South Africa under the constitution of South Africa and was adopted the following year. This version uses several of the official languages of South Africa. The first two lines of the first stanza are sung in Xhosa and the last two in Zulu. The second stanza is sung in Sesotho. The third stanza consists of a verbatim section of the former South African national anthem, "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika", and is sung in Afrikaans. The fourth and final stanza, sung in English, is a modified version of the closing lines of "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika".

The South African National Anthem’s name gets confused a lot… It isn’t “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, the correct name is “The National Anthem of South Africa”.


A Swahili translation of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" with partially modified lyrics is used as the national anthem of Tanzania under the name of "Mungu ibariki Afrika" since 1961.

Melody only


"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was the national anthem of Zambia from independence in 1964 until 1973, when the melody was retained but the lyrics replaced by "Stand and Sing of Zambia, Proud and Free". [13]



"Ishe Komborera Africa" was the Zimbabwean version of "God Bless Africa" sung in the Shona and Ndebele languages and was its first national anthem, adopted upon independence in 1980.

It was replaced in 1994 by "Ngaikomborerwe Nyika yeZimbabwe/Kalibusiswe Ilizwe LeZimbabwe" (English: "Blessed be the land of Zimbabwe"), but "Ishe Komborera Africa" still remains very popular in the country.


"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was used provisionally as the national anthem of Namibia at time of the country's independence in March 1990. But soon after, an official contest was organised for a new national anthem. It was won by Axali Doeseb, who wrote "Namibia, Land of the Brave" which was officially adopted on the first anniversary of the country's independence, in 1991.

Other countries and organisations

In other African countries throughout southern Africa, the song was sung by various independence and other movements. It includes versions in Chichewa (Malawi and Zambia). Outside of Africa, the hymn is perhaps best known as the long-time (since 1925) anthem of the African National Congress (ANC), as a result of the global anti-Apartheid Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was regularly sung at meetings and other events.

In Finland the same melody is used as the children's psalm "Kuule, Isä taivaan, pyyntö tää" (English: "Hear, Heavenly Father"). The hymn has appeared in Virsikirja , the hymnbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, with lyrics by Jaakko Löytty. [14]


Historic lyrics

The words of the first stanza and chorus were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas were added by the poet Samuel Mqhayi.

XhosaEnglish translation

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika
Malupakam' upondo lwayo;
Yiva imitandazo yetu


Yihla Moya, yihla Moya
Yihla Moya Oyingcwele

Sikelela iNkosi zetu;
Zimkumbule umDali wazo;
Zimoyike zezimhlouele,

Sikelel' amadol' esizwe,
Sikelela kwa nomlisela
Ulitwal' ilizwe ngomonde,

Sikelel' amakosikazi;
Nawo onk'amanenekazi;
Pakamisa wonk'umtinjana

Sikelela abafundisi
Bemvaba zonke zelilizwe;
Ubatwese ngoMoya Wako

Sikelel' ulimo nemfuyo;
Gzota zonk'indlala nezifo;
Zalisa ilizwe nempilo

Sikelel' amalinga etu
Awomanyana nokuzaka,
Awemfundo nemvisiswano

Nkosi Sikelel, Afrika;
Cima bonk' ubugwenza bayo
Neziggito, Nezono zayo

Lord, bless Africa
May her horn rise high up;
Hear Thou our prayers and bless us.


Descend O Spirit
Descend, O Holy Spirit

Bless our chiefs;
May they remember their Creator;
Fear Him and revere Him,
That He may bless them.

Bless the public men,
Bless also the youth
That they may carry the land with patience,
and that Thou mayst bless them.

Bless the wives;
And also all young women;
Lift up all the young girls
And bless them.

Bless the ministers
of all the churches of this land;
Endue them with Thy Spirit
And bless them.

Bless agriculture and stock raising;
Banish all famine and diseases;
Fill the land with good health
and bless it.

Bless our efforts of union and self-uplift,
Of education and mutual
And bless them.

Lord, bless Africa
Blot out all its wickedness
And its transgressions and sins,
And bless us.


XhosaZuluEnglishAfrikaans (as per Elvis Blue's version) [15]

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo
Yiva imithandazo yethu
Nkosi Sikelela Nkosi Sikelela

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi Sikelela
Thina lusapho lwayo.


Yihla moya, yihla moya
Yihla moya oyingcwele
Nkosi Sikelela
Thina lusapho lwayo.


Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika,
Malupnakanyisw' udumo lwayo;
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela, Nkosi sikelela,

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika,
Malupnakanyisw' udumo lwayo;
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela,
Nkosi sikelela,


Woza Moya (woza, woza),
Woza Moya (woza, woza),
Woza Moya, Oyingcwele.
Usisikelele, Thina lusapho lwayo.


Lord, bless Africa
May her spirit rise high up
Hear thou our prayers
Lord bless us, Lord bless us.

Lord, bless Africa
May her spirit rise high up
Hear thou our prayers
Lord bless us
Your family.


Descend, O Spirit
Descend, O Holy Spirit
Lord bless us
Your family.


Seën ons Here God, seën Afrika
Laat haar mag tot in die hemel reik
Hoor ons as ons in gebede vra
Seën ons, in Afrika
Kinders van Afrika
Hou u hand, o Heer, oor Afrika
Lei ons tot by eenheid en begrip
Hoor ons as ons U om vrede vra
Seën ons, in Afrika
Kinders van Afrika


Daal neer, o Gees, Heilige Gees
Daal neer, o Gees, Heilige Gees
Kom woon in ons,
lei ons, o Heilige Gees
Seën ons Here God, seën Afrika
Neem dan nou die boosheid van ons weg
Maak ons van ons sonde ewig vry
Seën ons, in Afrika
Kinders van Afrika


Meaning and symbolism

British musicologist Nicholas Cook states:

"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" has a meaning that emerges from the act of performing it. Like all choral performance, from singing a hymn to chanting at a football match, it involves communal participation and interaction. Everybody has to listen to everyone else and move forward together. It doesn't just symbolize unity, it enacts it ... Through its block-like harmonic construction and regular phrasing, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" creates a sense of stability and mutual dependence, with no one vocal part predominating over the others ... It lies audibly at the interface between European traditions of 'common-practice' harmony and African traditions of communal singing, which gives it an inclusive quality entirely appropriate to the aspirations of the new South Africa ... Enlisting music's ability to shape personal identity, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" actively contributes to the construction of the community that is the new South Africa. In this sense, singing it is a political act. [16]


Solomon Plaatje, author and founding member of the ANC, was the first to have the song recorded in London, 1923. A Sotho version was published in 1942 by Moses Mphahlele. Rev. John Langalibalele Dube's Ohlange Zulu Choir popularised the hymn at concerts in Johannesburg, and it became a popular church hymn that was also adopted as the anthem at political meetings.

A version by the London Symphony Orchestra under André Previn was featured in the film Cry Freedom (1987). [17]

In Kenya, Mang'u High School uses a translation, Mungu Ibariki Mang'u High, as its school anthem.

It has also been recorded by Paul Simon and Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Boom Shaka, Osibisa, Oliver Mtukudzi (the Shona version that was once the anthem of Zimbabwe) and the Mahotella Queens. Boom Shaka, a prominent South African kwaito group, formed the anthem in kwaito style, a popular South African genre influenced by house music. The interpretation was controversial, and it was viewed by some as a commercial subversion of the anthem; Boom Shaka countered by stating that their version represents liberation and introduces the song to younger listeners.

South African Idols-winner Elvis Blue recorded an Afrikaans translation of the song with Afrikaans singer Coenie de Villiers entitled "Seëngebed" ("Lord's Blessing") on his third studio album Afrikaans.

British a cappella vocal ensemble The King's Singers released a recording of the song, arranged by Neo Muyanga, on their album Finding Harmony.

See also

Related Research Articles

An anthem is a musical composition of celebration, usually used as a symbol for a distinct group, particularly the national anthems of countries. Originally, and in music theory and religious contexts, it also refers more particularly to short sacred choral work and still more particularly to a specific form of liturgical music. In this sense, its use began ca. 1550 in English-speaking churches; it uses English language words, in contrast to the originally Roman Catholic 'motet' which sets a Latin text.

National anthem of South Africa National anthem of South Africa

The National Anthem of South Africa was adopted in 1997 and is a hybrid song combining new English lyrics with extracts of the 19th century hymn "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" and the Afrikaans song "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika", which was used as the South African national anthem during the apartheid era. The committee responsible for this new composition 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.

Mungu ibariki Afrika National anthem of Tanzania

"Mungu ibariki Afrika" is the national anthem of Tanzania. It is a Swahili language version of Enoch Sontonga's popular hymn "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika".

Xhosa language Nguni language of southern South Africa

Xhosa also isiXhosa as an endonym, is a Nguni language and one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Xhosa is spoken as a first language by approximately 8.2 million people and by another 11 million as a second language in South Africa, mostly in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and Northern Cape. It has perhaps the heaviest functional load of click consonants in a Bantu language, with one count finding that 10% of basic vocabulary items contained a click.

"Stand and Sing of Zambia, Proud and Free" is the national anthem of Zambia. The tune is taken from the hymn "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", which was composed by Xhosa composer Enoch Sontonga, in 1897. The lyrics were composed after Zambian independence to specifically reflect Zambia, as opposed to Sontonga's lyrics, which refer to Africa as a whole.

"Ishe Komborera Africa", also called "Ishe Komborera Zimbabwe", was the Zimbabwean national anthem from 1980 to 1994. It was the country's first national anthem after gaining independence in 1980. It is a translation of 19th-century South African schoolteacher Enoch Sontonga's popular African hymn "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" into Zimbabwe's native Shona and Ndebele languages.

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