Google has graced its home page with an illustration of Enoch Sontonga wrapped in the colours of the South African flag.
— Google in Africa (@googleafrica) April 27, 2017
For many years before and after his death, Sontonga became an obscure figure.
He 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 – “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God Bless Africa).
Sontonga, a choirmaster, composed the music, and children in a church choir were among the first South Africans to first publicly sing the hymn in 1899. Samual Mqhayi, an isiXhosa poet, would later add verses to Sontonga’s original hymn. The hymn was written in the then Cape Colony, which would later from part of the Eastern Cape. The choirmaster and poet was born in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in 1873.
After his death in 1905, at the age of 34, Sontonga’s songs lived on. Diana Mgqibisa, his wife, would share his notebooks with church choirs who would then sing his hymns.
Sol Plaatjie, one of the founding members of the ANC, contributed the first ever recording of the hymn in 1923 in a London studio. In the two years that followed, the ANC would adopt the song as a struggle anthem, so that by 1925 the organisation was closing its meetings with a rendition of the hymn.
In 1994, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika became the official South African anthem alongside Die Stem – the national anthem under the apartheid regime. In 1996, the two songs were combined into an anthem that has become contested in South Africa.
Fees Must Fall student protesters have created their own remake of the anthem, removing the verse from Die Stem.
Today, South Africans mark the first democratic vote in 1994 – in the celebration of freedom or (un)freedom – and by honouring a man who isn’t always at the forefront of public memory, Google seems to have won a few South Africans over.
— Ntosh Ntlokwana (@ntoshn) April 27, 2017
— Aslam Buckus (@_Agasp) April 27, 2017
— Kee-Leen Irvine (@KeeLeenIrvine) April 27, 2017