National symbols? What happened to the giraffe?

Saturday October 12 2013


By Karl Lyimo,

According to the Permanent Mission of Tanzania to the UN, Tanzania has    four national symbols: a Flag, an Anthem, a Court of Arms and the Uhuru (Freedom) Torch.

Never mind that the national anthem was copied/borrowed/stolen from the 1897 hymn composition ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (Xhosa lingo for ‘God Bless Africa) by Enoch Sentonga, a teacher at a Methodist Mission School in Johannesburg.

As a matter of fact, Sentonga wasn’t all that ‘original,’ as he copied/borrowed/stole the tune from the hymn ‘Aberystwyth,’  composed in 1879 by Joseph Parry, a professor of music at what’s today  Aberystwyth University, Wales.

The song ‘Nkosi’ was added to and modified by Samuel Mqhayi in 1927, and was adopted by the African National Congress as its rallying symbol against the inimical apartheid regime of the time. At the beginning of the post-apartheid period in 1994, the universally-elected ‘one-for-all-South-Africans’ President Nelson Mandela adopted both the ‘Nkosi’ tune and the ‘former’ apartheid anthem ‘Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Call of South Africa), fusing both into a national anthem. If nothing else, this symbolised the new regime’s egalitarianism, thus putting the rainbow coalition on track.

But, that’s another story... In due course of time and events, other African nations had adopted the ‘Nkosi’ thing as their own post-Independence anthem: Tanzania in 1961; Zambia in 1964. (Apparently, the ‘Nkosi’ melody is used in Finland as the children’s psalm ‘Kuule Isä Taivaan’ (Hear, Heavenly Father).

The first part of the hymn is in the hymnbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland since 1985, with lyrics by Jaakko Löytty... And, Mang’u High School in Thika, Kenya, uses a translation, ‘Mungu Ibariki Mang’u High,’ as its school anthem!).


Interestingly enough, ‘Nkosi’ – suitably modified – was adopted as a national anthem by Zimbabwe on its independence from foreign rule in 1980. But the Mugabe government (still hanging on in there claws and fangs, by hook and by crook, 33 very long years later) tossed ‘Nkosi’ overboard in 1994, replacing it with ‘Kalibusiswe Ilizwe leZimbabwe’ (Blessed be the Land of Zimbabwe)!

Ditto for Namibia, which provisionally adopted ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ as the national anthem on the country’s independence, March 21, 1990. Soon thereafter, a formal contest for a new national anthem was won by Axali Doeseb, with his  creation ‘Namibia, Land of the Brave...’

Now, where do we find something akin to that, pray? Wait a minute... Oh, yes, of course; remember the lyrics of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ composed by Francis Scott Key in 1814?

‘And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!’ indulges the US national anthem!

But, we’ve digressed long enough here...  The national flag is even more interesting... We’re told the black colour on the flag represents the people; green: the land; blue the adjoining ocean, and the yellow: minerals! Really?

With adverse climate change threatening the globe, the so-called  ‘green revolution’ stagnating through continued benign neglect of  Agriculture, and the nation’s mineral wealth dissipating though grossly flawed mining policy, legislation and contracts, Tanzania may  soon enough have to change the colours to something bleaker!  What, pray, happened to the giraffe as a/the national symbol? I’ll explain... Sorry, space constrictions. Cheerio!