Sunday, November 15, 2020
Harrisburg, PA, USA

ometime in June of 1976, in the heat of the apartheid regime, the South African government suddenly mandated that schools should adopt Afrikaans, a local language derived from Dutch, as the medium of instruction. School children refused for the obvious reason that it will disadvantage them on the world stage. So they began to protest in the streets of Soweto.

The government called in the police and on that fateful day, police opened fire on the children, killing 176 of them. In essence, South African apartheid police murdered, in cold blood, 176 defenseless children trying to assert their rights! Many other atrocities took place, including the murder of South African activist, Steve Biko. All these began a chain of events that eventually culminated in the collapse of the evil regime. There was an iconic picture(inset) taken by one Sam Nzima of the Soweto massacre where a Hector Pieterson, shot by the police, was being evacuated from the scene by one Mbuyisa Makhubo. That picture made its way around the world and helped in making the case against an evil apartheid regime.

Since the song, Nkosi Sikelelí iAfrika or God Bless Africa was adopted by South Africa as her national anthem, I have always had a special affinity for the song. For one, I am a lover of melodious songs that lend themselves to harmonizing. The South African national anthem, the first part, is one of those songs. I love the song but at the same time, it reminds me of the inglorious days of apartheid- the Soweto massacre, the murder of Steve Biko and others. The song makes me sad and happy at the same time because while it reminds me of the atrocities of the past, it is beautifully melodious with touching lyrics. Embedded in the song is a woven mix of entreaties and supplications to the Almighty. It conjures up the feeling of a nation asking God to lead the way for her and if I may add, prevent them from falling back into a past that saw only carnage and destruction.

When I tried to learn this song, my research unearthed, for me, something I did not know about it until now. That first part is actually written in three different South African languages. The three languages are Xhosa, Zulu and Sesotho. It made the song a little difficult to learn because I had to practice them separately. It is almost like a foreigner trying to learn a Nigerian song written in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Becoming fluent in the pronunciation of the igbo part does not mean you will automatically pronounce the one in Hausa easily. It was a challenge but was well worth it for me. I never see language as a barrier in a song as long as the melody is appealing. The quest for beautiful music takes me to many countries, different people and different languages- Igbo, English, Swahili and now Xhosa, Sesotho and Zulu.

I am mindful of the Xenophobia that swept through South Africa before the pandemic. Many people have wondered why some citizens of a nation that defeated the evil apartheid, as a result of help from other nations, would engage in xenophobia. It even becomes more confounding to see that the citizens that were being chased out hail from nations that directly aided the struggle against apartheid. Many believe that the uprising was fueled by bad information, propaganda and conspiracy theories. That phase seems to have petered out and it is my fervent wish that what happened was an aberration that will never recur.

I played and sang the South African National anthem in remembrance of the Soweto massacre I mentioned below. Many have listened to the song and sent feedback to me. A few people have said that the song brings tears to their eyes, tears because it reminds them of apartheid and the triumph of Mandela. Here is the link to the song I sang on Youtube:

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War