Enock ManKayi Sontonga: the Man behind the National Anthems of Some African Nations
Enoch Mankayi Sontonga was born in 1873 – 18 April 1905 was a South African composer, who is best known for writing the song “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (English: “God Bless Africa”), which, in abbreviated version, has been sung as the first half of the national anthem of South Africa since 1994. Previously, it had been the official anthem of the African National Congress since 1925
Sontonga, a Xhosa, was born in the city of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape Colony. He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Institution and subsequently worked as a teacher and choirmaster at the Methodist Mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg for eight years.
The first verse and chorus of “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika” was composed in 1897 and it was originally intended to be a school anthem. Some sources say he wrote the tune the same year,but others contend that the tune was written by Joseph Parry as “Aberystwyth” and that Sontonga merely wrote new words. It was first sung in public in 1899 at the ordination of Reverend Mboweni, who was the first Tsonga Methodist minister. Later the Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi wrote a further seven verses
The song started to be more well known after John Langalibalele Dube’s Ohlange Institute’s choir used it. They played it at the South African Native National Congress meeting in 1912. It was sung after the closing prayer and the ANC adopted it as its official closing anthem in 1925. It was recorded in London as “Nkosi sikelel iAfrika” in 1923 and it was published by the Lovedale Press in 1927.
For many years, the site of Sontonga’s grave was unknown, but it was finally located in the “Native Christian” section of the Braamfontein cemetery in the early-1990s. One of the reasons why the location of his grave remained a mystery is that it was listed under the name “Enoch” and not by his surname “Sontonga”.
On 24 September 1996, Sontonga’s grave was declared a national monument and a memorial on the site was unveiled by then-President Nelson Mandela. At the same ceremony, the South African Order of Meritorious Service (Gold) was bestowed on Enoch Sontonga posthumously
Sontonga died in April 1905
This song by Sontonga is still being used by most countries in southern Africa and part of East Africa. Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania are among the countries that use the song as their National Anthem.