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For other uses, see Shosholoza (disambiguation).

"Shosholoza" is a Ndebele folk song that originated in what is now Zimbabwe but was popularized in South Africa. The song is a traditional South African folk song that was sung by Ndebele all-male migrant workers that were working in the South African mines in a call and response style. The song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa's second national anthem.


Although the original author of the song is unknown, "Shosholoza" is a traditional miner's song, originally sung by groups of men from the Ndebele ethnic group that travelled by steam train from their homes in Zimbabwe to work in South Africa's diamond and gold mines. The Ndebele live predominantly in Zimbabwe (formerly, Rhodesia) near its border with South Africa, and they can also be found in the northern border of South Africa.[1] The song mixes Ndebele and Zulu words and is Zimbabwean in origin even though the two ethnic groups are very similar.[1]

Some people argue that the song describes the journey to the mines in South Africa, while others say it describes the return to Zimbabwe.[1] It is also sometimes sung "stimela si phume Rhodesia". According to cultural researchers Booth and Nauright, Zulu workers later took up the song to generate rhythm during group tasks and to alleviate boredom and stress.[2] The song was sung by working miners in time with the rhythm of swinging their axes to dig. It was usually sung under hardship in call and response style (one man singing a solo line and the rest of the group responding by copying him).[1] It was also sung by prisoners in call and response style using alto, soprano part divided by row. Former South African President Nelson Mandela describes how he sang Shosholoza as he worked during his imprisonment on Robben Island. He describes it as "a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train" and goes on to explain that "the singing made the work lighter".[3]

In contemporary times, it is used in varied contexts in South Africa to show solidarity in sporting events and other national events to relay the message that the players are not alone and are part of a team.

Climate activists made the song the centerpiece of their Occupy COP17 rally on December 9, 2011, the final day of the United Nations climate treaty negotiations. Activists were calling on negotiators to "Stand With Africa" and agree to a legally binding and effective treaty.[4]


The song was usually sung to express the hardship of working in the mines. It expresses heartache over the hard work performed in the mines. The word Shosholoza or "chocholoza!" means go forward or make way for the next man, in Ndebele.[1] It is used as a term of encouragement and hope for the workers as a sign of solidarity. The sound "sho sho" uses onomatopoeia and reminiscent of the sound made by the steam train (stimela).[1] Stimela is the Zulu word for steam train.[1] "Kulezo ntaba!" means (At those far away mountains), "Stimela Siphume eZimbabwe" (the train come from Zimbabwe), "Wen´ uya baleka" (Because you're running away/hurrying).[1] In contemporary times, its meaning is to show support for any struggle.[5]

Pop culture references[edit]

The song is also used in pop culture to convey messages of hope and solidarity for athletes during competitions or in other times of hardship and distress.


The song has been recorded by a variety of artists, including Helmut Lotti, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, PJ Powers, Soweto Gospel Choir, Hemo, Peter Gabriel and Drakensberg Boys' Choir, as well as being a standard of most gumboots bands.[1]

Rugby World Cup 1995[edit]

The song gained further popularity after South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and is a favorite at sport events in South Africa. It was sung by the then Talk Radio 702 Breakfast Show co-host, Dan Moyane. The song was recorded, mastered and released in five days, having been mastered in the UK in order to get it ready in time for the first game in the 1995 RWC. It was conceptualised and produced by Famous Faces Management's CFF Stuart Lee. The record went gold in sales terms.


The South African a cappella group Overtone recorded the song for director Clint Eastwood's movie Invictus (2009).

Fifa World Cup 2010[edit]

The song was also sung by the South African football team as they came onto the field of play to open the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Other references[edit]

The first African challengers for the America's Cup, Team Shosholoza, took their name from the song; as did the Shosholoza Meyl, a long-distance passenger train service operating in South Africa. The song is also used as a campfire song by scouts in South Africa.[6]


The lyrics of the song vary, as do the transcriptions. In the older traditional styles, the words translate to "train from Rhodesia".[1] Such is the version heard in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy and as sung by Pete Seeger in his album We Shall Overcome. Here is one example:

Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa
Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa
Wen' uyabaleka
Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa

A rough translation:

Go forward
Go forward
from those mountains
on this train from South Africa
Go forward
Go forward
You are running away
You are running away
from those mountains
on this train from Zimbabwe



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j
  2. ^ Booth, D. and Nauright, J. 2007. Embodied Identities: Sport and Race in South Africa in Contours: A Journal of the African Diaspora, Spring 2003, Vol.1, No.1, accessed 09/08/07
  3. ^ Mandela, N. 1994. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, London: Little, Brown and Co., p. 394.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

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