Today, May 27, Google is honoring the composer of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), Enoch Sontonga as a way of marking South Africa’s 23rd Freedom day.
Enoch Sontonga was a South African choirmaster, poet, and composer who wrote the first version of Africa’s democratic national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika which form part of South African national anthem since 1994.
Google designed its homepage with an illustration of Enoch Sontonga wrapped in the colors of the South African flag.
— Google in Africa (@googleafrica) April 27, 2017
Sontonga was born in the 1870s as a member of the Xhosa-speaking Mpinga clan of the Tembu tribe in Uitenhage, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape).
Sontonga was not just a choirmaster at Methodist mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg, where he taught for over eight years, he was also an amateur photographer who wished to please those around him with his songs.
Many years before and after his death, Sontonga remembered in South Africa and other countries like Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
In fact, Tanzania and Zambia still adopt the Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika song as their national anthems while Zimbabwe and Namibia adopted the song as national anthems years after their independence.
Sontoga’s Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika is not only seen as a song that calls on God to bless African and all its people, it is also seen as a spiritual song that invokes the Holy Spirit, “Yihla Moya”. This fuses Protestantism with African traditions of cleansing. It carried a religious, spiritual, musical and traditional symbiosis.
The song was also merged with Langenhoven ‘s “Die Stem” – a piece written in May 1918 which was later musically composed by Reverend ML de Villiers in 1921.
Enoch Sontonga is now celebrated as the man who wrote a familiar hymn that would become a tribute to the struggle of black people against the oppression of the white apartheid regime.
Sontonga died in 1905, at the age of 34 but for many years his grave was unknown, but it was finally located in the “Native Christian” section of the Braamfontein cemetery in the early 1990s.
On September 24, 1996, South Africa’s Heritage Day, the grave site of Enoch Sontonga was declared a national monument with former President Nelson Mandela unveiling a memorial that was erected on the site.
Mandela also awarded the Order of Meritorious Service (Gold Category) posthumously to Sontonga for his service to our country. His granddaughter, Mrs. Ida Rabotape, accepted the award.