THE SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL ANTHEM: A HISTORY ON RECORD (extract)
By Siemon Allen
This text is extracted from an article on the early recordings of the South African National Anthem. The full version can be viewed at the Flaint blog.
“Die Stem” in Afrikaans
Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
Out of the blue of our heavens
Out of the depths of our seas
Over our everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound104
Cornelis Jacob Langenhoven, an Afrikaans poet wrote the Die Stem, a patriotic poem with three verses in May of 1918. Born on a farm near Ladismith in the Klein Karoo in 1873, he was an educator, solicitor and the editor of a local Dutch newspaper. At that time English and Dutch were the two ‘official’ languages of South Africa while, for many, Afrikaans was simply viewed as a creolized language of convenience and often derogatively referred to as “kitchen-Dutch”. Langenhoven was a proud and ardent supporter of Afrikaans and wrote extensively in support for it to be accepted in an official capacity. He is quoted as having said: “If Dutch is our Language, we must speak it, if Afrikaans is our Language, we must write it”.105 Afrikaans was officially adopted alongside English as the national language of South Africa in 1925.
By some accounts, Langenhoven had composed music for his poem, but critics did not entirely approve of the version and so a competition, sponsored by the newly formed Cape Town newspaper, Die Burger, was organised in 1919. Interestingly the founding editor of that paper, D.F. Malan, would become South Africa’s Prime Minister under the National Party when they took power in 1948. Finally the poem was set to music composed by Marthinus Lourens de Villiers and completed on May 31, 1920,106 the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Union of South Africa. Though most accounts have the final date for the composition as 1921.
De Villiers, was born in Paarl in the Cape in 1885, three years before his parents would open a music institute in Wellington. His mother, possibly of English heritage, taught him piano and his father, the organ, violin and harmony. He would subsequently also play clarinet in his father’s brass band. De Villiers’s was a composer, but also a pastor and educator. Seeing the destruction of the the Anglo-Boer war left him with a deep desire to identify with his Afrikaner roots and he, until his death in 1977, remained “a pro-Afrikaner volksman”.107
In a 1975 interview De Villiers said that he had composed the music while living in Simontowns, a village on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula. He was looking out the window one day watching the waves crash on the beach with a backdrop of the Cape mountains and a clear blue sky:
“Net daar het ek die musiek vir Uit die blou van onse Hemel, uit die diepte van ons see, in my voel opwelm en dit dadelik neergeskryf.”108
As mentioned earlier, Langenhoven’s poem originally had only three verses, but a fourth verse was added, by some accounts at the request of the government, to bolster a religious theme. It is not clear to me at what point in the development of the anthem this occurred.
The first recording of the future anthem took place in London in 1926 on the Zonophone label and was made by Betty Steyn. While the song was recorded in 1926, and therefore in the smallest literal sense must have already been performed in public, it was only first “publicly performed”, by most accounts, on Union Day, May 31st 1928 in Cape Town.110
DIE KAAPSTADSE MUNISIPALE ORKES (THE CAPE TOWN MUNICIPAL ORCHESTRA)
late 1932 or early1933
Die Stem Van Suid-Afrika
Columbia, LE 72, WEA 995
Could be reissued on Columbia, DE 301
A subsequent orchestral recording of De Villiers' composition alone was made by the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra in what I am suspect was late 1932 or early 1933 by a visiting Columbia unit and issued on the Columbia blue label. This was the second Columbia unit to visit South Africa after the first came between May and August 1930.
The flip side of this disc includes the track Botha’s Boys composed by past conductor of the orchestra Theo Wendt. This marching song had first been recorded by a visiting unit sent out by the Edison Bell company in 1924 and issued on their Velvet Face label. The Cape Town Municipal Orchestra made their first performance in February of 1914 in the Cape Town City Hall with Theo Wendt conducting. Wendt resigned in May 1924 and was succeeded by Leslie Howard who was subsequently replaced by William J. Pickerill early in 1927.111 Pickerill remained until October 1946 and it is he who is conducting the Orchestra on these Columbia recordings.
The Boer War between colonial England and the two Boer republics ended in 1902 and subsequently in 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a dominion of the British Empire. In the 1920s, a compromise between Afrikaner Nationalists on one side, and the pro-British English-speaking population on the other — both white — was for the country to have two flags and two anthems: the Union Flag flown side by side with the Union Jack and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika sung together with God Save the King (or Queen).
The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (FAK) or Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies was formed in Bloemfontein in 1929 with the main objective of promoting Afrikaans with a co-ordinated and constructive agenda.114 The organisation also had the goal of reaching a consensus amongst Afrikaners on an anthem in Afrikaans that could be sung side-by-side with God Save the King. The Union of South Africa, then under the dominion of the British Empire, had adopted this anthem with its formation in 1910. In 1936 the FAK finally and unanimously accepted the poem by Langenhoven set to the music of De Villiers as the Afrikaans national anthem.115 It is not clear to me when Die Stem was officially accepted by the government to be played alongside God Save the Queen though it is possible that this had already been taking place since the anthem was first publicly performed in 1928.
The role played by Eban Dönges in the eventual adoption of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika as the only official national anthem is quite interesting as is revealed in Anton Ettiene Bekker’s biography.120 Dönges was acting Prime Minister of South Africa for eight days after the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd in September of 1966, but was subsequently replaced by B.J. Vorster. He was then elected State President in June of 1967, but before taking office fell into a coma after having a stroke, and eventually died in January 1968.121
When the National Party came into power in 1948, beyond implementing grand-apartheid, the Afrikaner nationalists also had an agenda of transforming the Union into a Republic and declaring independence from Britain by leaving the British Commonwealth. Part of the goal was to figure out a strategy of stripping the country of its British colonial symbols. Dönges, joined D.F. Malan’s cabinet as the Minister of the Interior in June of 1948. Sixteen months later in September of 1949, the Afrikaanse Taal en Kutuuvereniging (ATKV) or Afrikaans Language and Culture Organisation wrote to Dönges stating that in order to establish national unity, that Die Stem van Suid-Afrika should be declared the only national anthem, and a version should be translated into English. In September 1950, Donges established a committee, chaired by H.A Fagan, to work on a legitimate translation.122 Dönges as Bekker points out was quite enthusiastic about the whole project and even translated some lines of the anthem himself:
“‘n Aanduiding van hoe entoesiasties Dönges was, is die veit dat hy self sy hand gewaag het aan die vertaling van sommige strofes en ook veranderinge aangebring het aan van die voorstelle wat ontvang is en later as “The Call of South Africa” die lig gesien het”.123
Subsequently the English translation became known as “The Call of South Africa” and was first published in 1952 and also accepted for official use. But as the matter was still quite controversial, both the Union Jack and God Save the Queen were also still officially used. Moreover both anthems continued to be played after various non-official events, such as at the close of radio broadcasts, or at the end of films in theatres. All the while the Nationalists continued to advocate a position of one flag, one anthem as the only path to achieve comprehensive national unity. In February 1954 a National Party MP, J.P. Basson submitted a motion to the assembly calling for a single flag and anthem. Within two weeks the management of African Consolidated Theatres dropped the British anthem from the close of screenings. Support for the elimination of the dual anthem reached a crossroad when two conservative English-speaking members of Parliament, Arthur Barlow and Frank Wearing, advocated for the single flag, single anthem policy, in March 1956, with Die Stem van Suid-Africa as the only national anthem.124
Interestingly, as Bekker reveals, the debates that followed in the House of Assembly proved to be quite heated. For example, Douglas Mitchell, a United Party MP, rejected the motion on account that it bred division, but also noted that there was an additional anthem being sung by millions of black South Africans: Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.
“Die Verenigde Party se Douglas Mitchell (Natalse Suidkus) het die mosie verwerp omdat dit 'n sensitiewe saak was wa verdeeldheid aangewakker het. Hy het daarop gewys dat daar nog 'n volkslied - Nkosi Sikele iAfrika - is wat deur miljoene swartes in die Unie gesing is.”125
The motion at that time however was tabled. But support both in the Afrikaans and surprisingly in the English press for the single flag, single anthem policy continued. In March 1957 Barlow, the conservative English-speaking MP, this time submitted a private bill to Parliament calling for the Union flag to be adopted. Dönges, as Bekker continues, suggested that a single flag by implication also implies a single anthem, though the anthem did not require a legislative amendment. Thus it was left to Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom, to declare in parliament on May 2nd 1957 that Die Stem van Suid-Afrika would be the only national anthem of the country.126
The controversy was felt worldwide within the British Commonwealth and made the front pages of papers like the Ottawa Citizen. Dönges, the newspaper reported, had to roll back Strijdom’s statement somewhat by saying that God Save the Queen would still be played at official functions where appropriate.127 The British anthem though from then on was dropped. South Africa would eventually leave the Commonwealth and become a Republic on May 31st, 1961.
The government sought to claim the copyright of Die Stem van Suid Afrika from the estate of Langenhoven and officially acquired the rights to the poem in the Copyright Act of 1959.128 View a PDF of that document here.
CAPE TOWN MUNICIPAL ORCHESTRA
For more information about this record and the anthem, read my full article, The South African National Anthem: a history on record at the Flatint blog. An extract from the essay can be viewed in the liner notes section to the left.