Posted by: rbbadger | February 20, 2012

A tale of two anthems

In 1994, South Africa gained a new flag and a new constitution.  The old system of apartheid had passed away and the nation moved into an era of majority African rule.  The white population, both English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking, was then, as now, a minority population.  Nevertheless, the whites held control of the government and a system of enforced racial segregation was put in place.

It’s easy for people to think of Africa as one sort of monolithic culture.  There are many, many different cultures and languages.  South Africa has eleven official languages, two of which are of European origin, namely English and Afrikaans.  (Afrikaans is basically South African Dutch.  It has a very high level of intelligibility with Dutch.  Dutch speakers can easily understand Afrikaans speakers, and vice versa.  There are some grammatical, spelling, and vocabulary differences, but their small in comparison to say Dutch and English.)  The national anthem, Die Stem van Suid-Afrika, was written in Afrikaans.  Here’s the old anthem.

After the new constitution came into effect, the national anthem was also revised.  Originally, both Nkosi sikelel iAfrika and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika existed as co-equal national anthems.  However, in 1996, they were combined into one.  In the first half, Nkosi sikelel iAfrika is sung in Xhosa, Zulu, and Sethoso while after a key change, part of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika is sung in Afrikaans and English.  I wonder how well everyone can remember the words.  An Irish friend of mine said that not many Irish he knew could sing his national anthem, given that it’s not in English, but in Irish Gaelic.  All Irish school children must study Irish Gaelic, though only a minority speak it as a first language.  Despite the best efforts of the Irish government, English still is the language spoken by a majority of people.  I would hope that there will always be people, no matter how small they might be, to keep it alive.  As he aspires to be a public school teacher in Ireland, he is studying Irish Gaelic right now, as all school teachers have to have some degree of proficiency in the language.  There still is a lot of Irish Gaelic seen in Ireland, though.  Instead of the police, Ireland has An Garda Síochána.  Instead of Prime Minister, Ireland has the Taoiseach, who must in order to keep his office, maintain a majority in the Dáil Éireann. 

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