On this day, the 23 rd anniversary of the first democratic elections held in South Africa during which Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Madiba) was elected president, I would like to share with you some of my journey during that time and the lesser known South African people/events who had an effect on me and the way I see things.
I have to start off with my idol though, Madiba. Not one of the lesser known, he is famous. His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, had an indelible effect on me and the book is one of my most treasured possessions.
In 1998 I fell in love with a man who closely resembled Madiba in looks and in outlook on life, but sadly things did not work out for us. His name will remain private although he changed my life forever.
Four of the lesser known people I want to mention today are a black man and three white men, who were all artists, only one is still alive. The black man, Enoch Sontonga, wrote the original National Anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika in 1897 – a deeply moving song which to me signifies the New South Africa which followed Apartheid.
The first white man, Dan Heymann, wrote the song Weeping almost a century later, including a few lines of instrumental from Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika while it was banned in South Africa – during the mid eighties as a particularly moving Anti Apartheid song written from the point of view of a white guy forced into the government’s war. This song to me is very relevant today with the ever present international wars and threats of nuclear war.
Information on Enoch Sontonga from site http://zar.co.za/sontonga.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFW7845XO3g – listen to it here.
The humble and obscure life of Enoch Sontonga is an antithesis of the dreams he inspired in generations of Africans through his famous composition “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”. Details of his short life are hard to come by. He was born in Uitenhage (Eastern Cape), in about 1873. Trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Institution, he was sent to a Methodist Mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg. He married Diana Mgqibisa, the daughter of a prominent minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and had one son.
A choirmaster and photographer, he wrote the first verse and chorus of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” when he was 24 (1897), one of many songs he wrote for his pupils. Later the same year, he composed the music. The song is a prayer for God’s blessing on the land and all its people. Sontonga’s choir sang the song around Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal, and other choirs followed them. It was first sung in public in 1899 at the ordination of Rev Boweni, a Shangaan Methodist Minister.
Most of Sontonga’s songs were sad, witnessing the suffering of African people in Johannesburg, but they were so popular that after his death choirs used to borrow them from his wife. According to sources, she eventually sold the rights to the song for a mere sixpence. She died in 1929.
Sontonga wrote his songs down in an exercise book, which was lent out to other choirmasters and eventually became the property of a family member, Boxing Granny. She never missed a boxing match in Soweto, hence the nickname. She died at about the time Sontonga’s grave was declared a heritage site in 1996, but the book was never found.
Solomon Plaatje, one of South Africa’s greatest writers and a founding member of the ANC, was the first to have the song recorded, accompanied by Sylvia Colenso on the piano. This was on 16 October 1923, in London. In 1925 the ANC adopted the song as the closing anthem for their meetings. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas were added by Samuel Mqhayi, a poet. The song was published in a local newspaper in the same year, and was included in the Presbyterian Xhosa hymn book “Ingwade Yama-culo Ase-rabe” in 1929. A Sesotho version was published in 1942 by Moses Mphahlele.
The Rev J L Dube’s Ohlange Zulu Choir popularised “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” at concerts in Johannesburg, and it became a popular church hymn that was also adopted as the anthem at political meetings. For decades Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was regarded as the national anthem of South Africa by the oppressed and it was always sung as an act of defiance against the apartheid regime. There are no standard versions or translations of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” so the words vary from place to place and from occasion to occasion. Generally the first stanza is sung in Xhosa or Zulu, followed by the Sesotho version. The song spread beyond the borders of South Africa and has been translated and adapted into a number of other languages. It is still the national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia and has also been sung in Zimbabwe and Namibia for many years.
A proclamation issued by the State President on 20 April 1994 stipulated that both “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and “Die Stem” (the Call of South Africa), written by Afrikaans poet CJ Langenhoven in 1918, would be the national anthems of South Africa. In 1996 a shortened, combined version of the two anthems was released as the new National Anthem.
Information on Dan Heymann from site http://www.weeping.info/index.html.
Weeping had its debut in South Africa in 1987, as a protest song about the oppressive white government. The writer of of Weeping, Dan Heymann, was an unwilling white soldier, drafted into the Army. Weeping began as an instrumental piece, expressing his unhappines at being drafted by the regime, and later he wrote words to Weeping when the government declared a State of Emergency and imposed a ban on media-coverage of the situation in South Africa.
The first recording of Weeping was by Bright Blue, the South African band in which Dan Heymann played keyboards. That version of Weeping included a brief instrumental reference to “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, the anthem of the African National Congress, which was banned by the government at the time; However, the official censors didn’t act, and the radio DJ’s had a field-day with the song, so Weeping spent two weeks at number one on the government radio-station.
Many covers were done of this song but the original is still the most profound.
Written by Dan Heymann
(Copyright Bright Blue)
I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain
It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping
But as the night came round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping
And then one day the neighbors came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all
“My friends,” he said, “We’ve reached our goal
The threat is under firm control
As long as peace and order reign
I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain
Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain”
Dan Heymann was a founder-member of the South African band, Bright Blue, during 1983, playing keyboards and writing songs in the band until 1990.
Hailing from Cape Town, Dan Heymann was born in 1960, and took classical piano lessons at school, until the age of about 14.
During that time, Dan Heymann never mastered the art of reading music fluently, preferring to figure pieces out by ear, which naturally was an obstacle in Dan Heymann’s classical-music progress!
However, after ending his classical lessons, Dan Heymann did a lot of listening to rock-‘n-roll music, and occasionally jammed with schoolmates, two of whom would later work with Dan Heymann as members of Bright Blue.
At that time, Dan Heymann played an old electric organ, handed down from a cousin.
Following high school, Dan Heymann studied engineering at the University of Cape Town, where his continued interest in music led him to keep playing the piano.
For his 21st birthday, he used the money he’d saved to buy himself a Wurlitzer electric piano, which enabled him to make some vacation-money playing background-music in restaurants,
and that led to a few gigs with a hastily-assembled jazz band, after being heard by guitarist Tom Fox, who was also to become a founder-member of Bright Blue!
The influence of traditional South African music was hard to resist, and the solo improvisations of Dan Heymann soon took on some local flavor.
In mid-1983, his final year on campus, Dan Heymann was invited by those former high-school-mates (the brothers Ian and Peter Cohen) to lend his musical style to founding a band,
where Dan Heymann first met singer-songwriter Robin Levetan, who fronted the band, and was re-united with Tom Fox, his former crony from the short-lived jazz band.
After a busy first year with the band, Dan Heymann found his musical career on hold, when he was drafted into the Army of the oppressive Apartheid regime.
However, Dan Heymann was able to continue developing his musical ideas, using any pianos that were available on army bases, and that’s where Dan Heymann wrote the music of “Weeping”.
At that time, Dan Heymann intended only to capture his anti-army feelings in a melancholy instrumental piece;
But many months later, the declaration of a State of Emergency by the white regime gave Dan Heymann the idea for the lyrics of “Weeping”.
In 1992 Dan Heymann moved to New York City, where he now lives, and continues to write.
The second white man was Johannes Kerkorrel or his real name, Ralph Rabie, who wrote some of the most exquisite music about South Africa. Disenchanted with the political situation in South Africa, he was also seen as ‘subversive’. It is unfortunate that most of his music was recorded in Afrikaans but it can still be appreciated by music lovers everywhere. His music to me signifies the time of becoming aware that not all whites are bad racist chauvinists, that those who are different to the majority are oppressed too. His most well known song is Halala Africa – listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRucmVSFDaI. Here is the english translation of the lyrics as per http://www.kuleuven.be/iccp/2004/iccp14/halalafrika.htm.
When the world still was young
and the horizons widely open
Was this there green in this hemisphere
Towards the south of the equator
and in the shadow of the fallen sun
and the beasts running towards home
we hear women’s voices shouting
over the hills of the land
Tula tula mtanami
Tula tula sanaboni
Tula tula mtanami
Ubab uzobuya sihlale naye
Ubab uzobuya sihlale sonke, hmmm – hmmm
Ships are coming from the west
White sails over the sea
asking for food and water
and to stay over for so much more
And the country which once was open
because of the ghetto’s of the cities
who gave us copper wire in return
Mayibuye Africa (Return Africa in Zulu)
There was wealth in the stomach
of our mother Africa
Diamonds, coal, gold, metal
And people are becoming slaves now
because they get paid
to drill in the ground
to get out every bit of grain
And the big open meadows
are closed with barbed wire
and from the elephant till the he-goat
All the animals had to surrender
for the power of the hunter
for the power of his large gun
until silence remains
until silence restrains
Halala, mayibuye Africa
Read more about him here. http://www.kuleuven.be/iccp/2004/iccp14/biography.htm. Appreciate one of his english songs…River of Love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RAFPqjJM74.
The third white person is the Author Andre P Brink. Born in 1935, he was a white man with a deep understanding of the terrible effects of apartheid. His books were banned by the Apartheid Government but I still got hold of them. It helped that I worked at an international airport and had access to confiscated/banned books. They helped me understand a world hidden from me as a white South African. Read more about him and his books at http://andrebrink.bookslive.co.za/about/ and https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/andre-brink.
Poet, novelist, essayist and teacher, he began work as a University lecturer in Afrikaans and Dutch Literature in the 1960s. He began writing in Afrikaans, but when censored by the South African government, began to also write in English and became published overseas. He remains a key figure in the modernisation of the Afrikaans language novel.
His book, A Dry White Season (1979), was made into a film starring Marlon Brando while An Instant in the Wind (1976), the story of a relationship between a white woman and a black man, and Rumours of Rain (1978) were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Devil’s Valley (1998) explores the life of a community locked away from the rest of the world, and The Other Side of Silence (2002), set in colonial Africa in the early twentieth century, won a Commonwealth Writers regional award for Best Book in 2003. He has also written a collection of essays on literature and politics, Reinventing a Continent (1996), prefaced by Nelson Mandela.
André Brink was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government. In 1992 he was awarded the Monismanien Human Rights Award from the University of Uppsala, for making known the injustice of apartheid to the wider world.
He was Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Cape Town. His novels includeThe Blue Door (2007) and Philida (2012). In 2008, his trilogy of novellas, Other Lives, was published, comprising the previously published The Blue Door along with Appassionata and Mirror. 2009 saw the publication of a memoir, A Fork in the Road.
André Brink died on 6th February 2015.
A Dry White Season, Rumours of Rain, A Chain of Voices, Imaginings of Sand, Praying Mantis, States of Emergency, The Other Side of Silence, Before I forget and others are totally worth a read – you will understand South Africa better.
Although there were many honourable women involved in the Ant-Apartheid movement, none of them really had an individual, personal influence on me. I admire any and all women who make positive contributions to the world though.
I do want to mention Adv. Thuli Madonsela as well as Helen Suzman (an opposition politician during the earlier apartheid years) for their courage, determination and strength. It was more the overall general struggle as women in a chauvinistic white society which affected me, their struggle to survive in a male dominated world.
Until 1994 I only knew what the government fed the masses, but fortunately had my own mind and a need to know the truth. You need not accept everything you hear or read as the truth. Find out from other sources if you have doubts. For more insight into the South African freedom struggle, watch the Steve Biko story with Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom.