Written by Kelsey Maggott
During the Fees Must Fall (FMF) protests at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the
adapted decolonised version of the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica, is sung with
passion and vigour as it is used to bring student protestors together as it expresses their
lament and their hope.
Enoch Sontonga, a Black South African, composed the original hymn. He wrote the song in
1897 as a prayer to God to bless the land and its people. Thus, the song is extremely
significant in an African context as it encompasses the Black struggle for freedom and
The “decolonised” version of the anthem uses the first three lines of Sontonga’s work and the
remaining lyrics and different tempo was created at an African Christian youth camp. It was
created without any political affiliation and the aim of the hymn was for all Black Africans to
acknowledge their pain and to call on God for strength against adversity.
The hymn was then sung by the University of Witwatersrand’s (Wits) choir. Following this, a
student at Wits, part of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC), heard
the hymn and felt it expressed a collective Black student experience. He then changed the
style of it to fit that of a revolutionary song and from there it became a song used by the
EFFSC in FMF student protests. It was then named, “The Decolonised Anthem” and it has
become politicised, which seems to disregard the hymns intentional religious origin and
context. The song is now used by the FMF movement at UCT, which is led by the former
EFFSC Student Representatives Council (SRC) members, under the banner of ‘a call for
unity’. However, the unity they are calling for appears to be exclusively for Black students.
The FMF movement has become racialised. The focus of the movement is on Black students,
due to the financial constraints many Black students face as a result of structural economic
oppression that is deeply rooted in apartheid. Although there has been opposition to the claim
that only Black students struggle financially within a university context, the movement
remains exclusive. This exclusion is further emphasised as many student protestors refuse to
sing the official South African national anthem. The decision made by EFF student activists
to instead sing the Decolonised Anthem, which many students are unfamiliar with, is
extremely significant. This song does not contain English or Afrikaans, the two historically
white languages in South Africa. This decision is suggestive of the EFFs leader, Julius
Malema’s, belief that white South Africans are ‘visitors’ and the languages of this minority
should not be acknowledged in the context of this country and in the narrative of democracy.
In my opinion the more supporters the movement gains, the more likely it is that their
demands will be met. The Decolonised Anthem does not contain English and Afrikaans and
thus marginalises speakers of these languages. Despite the decolonised version gaining
popularity, the official national anthem is known to historically bring South Africans
together. For many it promotes unity and a common interest of love for South Africa. I
believe that by FMF UCT students prioritising the Decolonised Anthem by refusing to sing
the official version it is reflective of the racial division within the movement and this can act
as a disadvantage in that there is not an inclusive majority of UCT students standing together
for a cause which needs immediate attention.