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Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

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Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
English: Lord Bless Africa

Former co-national anthem of South Africa
Former national anthem of Namibia and Zambia
LyricsEnoch 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
Sung by Sol Plaatje in 1923
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. The words of the first stanza and chorus were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas[3] 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."[4] 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.[5] "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was first published in 1927.[5] The song was the official anthem for the African National Congress during the apartheid era and was a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement.[6] 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.[7]

Use today[edit]

South Africa[edit]

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.[8][9][10]

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 is often incorrectly called “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” but 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[edit]


"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".[11]



"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[edit]

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.[12]


Historic lyrics[edit]

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.

Xhosa English translation

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika
Malupakam' upondo lwayo;
Yiva imithandazo yethu


Yihla Moya, yihla Moya
Yihla Moya Oyingcwele

Sikelela iNkosi zethu;
Zimkhumbule umDali wazo;
Zimoyike zezimhlonele,

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

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

Sikelela abafundisi
Bemvaba zonke zelilizwe;
Ubathwese ngoMoya Wako

Sikelel' ulimo nemfuyo;
Gxotha zonk' iindlala nezifo;
Zalisa ilizwe nempilo

Sikelel' amalinga ethu
Awomanyana nokuzaka,
Awemfundo nemvisiswano

Nkosi Sikelel, Afrika;
Cima bonk' ubugwenxa 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.


Xhosa Zulu English

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,
Maluphakanyisw' udumo lwayo;
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela, Nkosi sikelela,

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika,
Maluphakanyisw' 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.


Meaning and symbolism[edit]

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.[13]


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).[14]

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[edit]

  • "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika", former national anthem of South Africa, used during the Apartheid era
  • "Ishe Komborera Africa", former national anthem of Zimbabwe, used during the early 1980s
  • "Shosholoza", Southern African folk song, often referred to as an unofficial national anthem of South Africa


  1. ^ "South Africa (1994-1997) – nationalanthems.info". Archived from the original on 1 June 2018.
  2. ^ Coplan, David B.; Jules-Rosette, Bennetta (2004). "'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika': From Independent Spirit to Political Mobilization". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 44 (173/174): 343–367. doi:10.4000/etudesafricaines.4631.
  3. ^ Bennetta Jules-Rosette (2004). "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 44 (173–174). Etudesafricaines.revues.org: 343–367. doi:10.4000/etudesafricaines.4631. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  4. ^ Redmond, Shana L. (2014). Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: New York University Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-1-243-64654-5.
  5. ^ a b "Enoch Mankayi Sontonga". South African History Online. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  6. ^ "Encyclopedia of African History and Culture. Volume IV – The Colonial Era (1850 TO 1960)". Scribd.com. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  7. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (6 December 2013). "Nelson Mandela: the triumph of the protest song". The Guardian.
  8. ^ SABC Digital News (8 May 2015). "Full Nelson Mandela Inauguration on 10th of May 1994" – via YouTube.
  9. ^ Anthem Base (26 February 2016). "Die Stem, 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' and 'Star Spangled Banner' – Mandela State Visit (1994)" – via YouTube.
  10. ^ "New South African Flag Raising Ceremony | C-SPAN.org". www.c-span.org. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  11. ^ "National Anthem Act, Cap 7". Zambia Legal Information Institute. 14 September 1973. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Taustakuvaus virrestä 501". evl.fi (in Finnish). Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  13. ^ Nicholas Cook (24 February 2000). Music: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-160641-0.)
  14. ^ Coplan, David B.; Jules-Rosette, Bennetta (1 December 2005). "'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' and the Liberation of the Spirit of South Africa". African Studies. 64 (2): 285–308. doi:10.1080/00020180500355876. ISSN 0002-0184. S2CID 53402733.

External links[edit]