Address by President Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the monument to Enoch Sontonga on Heritage Day

23 September 1996

Minister of Arts and Culture, Science and Technology;
Premier of Gauteng;
Mrs. Rabotape;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

I am deeply moved, to be part of this historic occasion to honour an African patriot, a distinguished son of South Africa, one who has bequeathed on our generation - generations before and generations to come - so much to celebrate and so much to be proud of.

By the pride with which we bellowed your melody and its lyrics - in good times and bad - we were saying to you, Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, that with your inspiration, we could move mountains. Today, we can do much more by honouring you as a free nation, as masters of our destiny, as beneficiaries of the blessings that you enjoined The Almighty to bring upon us.

We are free at last. Africa is unshackled; and her spirit can rise majestically in a renaissance yet to come, but a renaissance that indeed will come, from the sweat of her children's brows.

In unveiling this memorial to Enoch Sontonga, in declaring this Enoch Sontonga Memorial Park, and in naming the Enoch Sontonga Avenue, we are formalising the honour that we have kept in our hearts and, as a united nation, acknowledging an epic contribution to Africa's quest for her dignity.

It is a great privilege for me to share in this homage to the memory of a great man, one who evoked Africa's rebirth, even as the smoke lifted on a long and devastating era of battles lost to a better-armed force.

In paying this tribute to Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, we are recovering a part of the history of our nation and our continent.

When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.

Enoch Sontonga stands tall and distinguished among these luminaries, as the architect of our ode to joy and pain, a builder of the nation just born.

Our humble actions today form part of the re-awakening of the South African nation; the acknowledgement of its varied achievements.

Among these achievements are the tools of the re-awakening of the South African nation; the acknowledgement of its varied achievements.

Among these achievements are the tools of Stone Age people living in South Africa millions of years ago; sites of human settlement hundred-and-fifty thousand years ago; a unique Rock Art heritage as old as twenty-five thousand years; relics more than a thousand years old of farming, mining and the work of artisans in Thulamela and elsewhere. All these are part of our forgotten heritage left by more than three million years of human civilisation in our country.

However, many of them are known only to a few experts or lie unrecognised and neglected. We need to make this heritage accessible to all South Africans, and to the world, for their enrichment and enjoyment.


Distinguished Guests;

It is one of the ironies of our history that, like the relics of our more distant past, the grave of Enoch Sontonga lay neglected and unseen, even as his words and music nourished the soul of our nation.

We therefore do indeed feel blessed that we can today pay honour to this hero of our nation.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have made it possible for us to recover this history, like the great historian Professor Jabavu. They include the poet Samuel Mqhayi, who was inspired to build on Sontonga's message with verses that have become part of Sontonga's legacy.

I might add that this has some significance to me personally, for I drew a great deal of political courage in my youth from hearing Mqhayi give a breathtaking recital of his famous poems.

The initiative which has culminated in today's events owes much to a partnership of government, historians, musicians and others who cared.

But above all, we owe this to the countless men, women and children across generations who carried this anthem in their heart, in the face of bullets and the hangman's noose; in moments of terrible privation and in the joy of celebration.

The circumstances of Sontonga's burial, in a segregated cemetery, in an unmarked grave with incomplete recourse, is a harsh reminder of the times in which the hymn was composed.

Then as white domination consolidated itself in the crucible of a gold-mining industry that was forging new kinds of chains, another voice was heard amongst the oppressed; the assertion of African pride bent on regaining independence.

It comes as no surprise that Enoch Sontonga was a founder member of one of the independent churches whose establishment was amongst the most powerful expressions of this mood.

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika, Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo - so truly did the hymn speak of its time that it was taken up by the people, in what became South Africa, and far beyond its borders.

Nkosi Sikelela is, then, a hymn born of the clash of vast historical forces. But what a hymn it is, this simple appeal for national redemption, for continental salvation.

Morena Boloka is not a clarion call to arms. It is not an incitement to the barricades or a scream for revenge.

God sëen Afrika might have warmed up the blood of slaves with the fire of faith; but it is not a tune of glory to the might of one over the other. It has always been an ode to peace; a celebration of human solidarity in diversity.

Lord Bless Africa speaks quietly, only of thanks and blessing for the people, its teachers and the land we live in. It is a prayer for crops and rain, for harvest, health and peace for all.

It is the torch that has lit our way. This is the torch that even as we fall, we hand on, one to the other, to the end of time.

It unites town and countryside; workers and professionals; students, teachers and those without formal education; religions of every denomination and those with no formal religion. The vision which once sustained the oppressed now unites all in our liberated nation.

And so today, we celebrate Enoch Sontonga's gift to us, a heroic message of calm, written in the eye of the storm. Today it forms part of our national anthem; and along with Die Stem, it embellishes various strands of our past in a unison of inclusiveness, of the oneness of South Africa's people.

Dear Enoch Sontonga:

In our hearts you are a father, an inspiration to generations. We all wish that we had met, so we could embrace you for the courage you gave us in the struggle, for the strength you give us today as we strive to build a better life for all. We owe you more than we can ever say.

You remind us with every breath we take, that we have the nation that you prayed for, a nation that we hope to make better, a nation growing in peace and with God's blessing. You remind us that Africa's children are indeed lifting themselves up in her renaissance.

And now I am honoured to bestow on Enoch Sontonga posthumously, the Order for Meritorious Service Gold, in recognition of his outstanding service in the public interest, through his creativity and talent which has continued to guide and inspire our country. The medal is to be received by his granddaughter, Mrs. Ida Rabotape.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation