Moving Tributes for South Africa’s Iconic Composer

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — Two anthems, one country. Such was the inspiration for President Nelson Mandela in 1994 to declare that both “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (Lord bless Africa) and “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (English: “The Call of South Africa”)—the state anthem inherited from the previous apartheid government—would be the national anthems of the new South Africa.

His vision was shared by Mzilikazi Khumalo, a prolific composer, professor, and linguist with a stellar career in music. He played a pivotal role in joining the new and old anthems for purposes of reconciliation.

In 1999, he was awarded the Order of the Star by President Mandela in recognition of his contributions to the nation.

Professor James Steven Mzilikazi Khumalo, died this month at the age of 89. Colleagues hailed him as an iconic composer whose passing leaves a void in the country’s music fraternity.

The ANC, in a statement, described Khumalo as a fountain of wisdom and a human encyclopedia on indigenous music, adding that he was able to capture the history of the country and tell the story of the nation through the music.

Khumalo’s achievements were recognized with honorary degrees from five South African universities. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Literary Award from MNET in 2007. He was Professor Emeritus of African Languages at Wits University at the time of death.

His opera, Princess Magogo, was the first by a black South African. 

Khumalo collaborated with noted conductors, composers, librettists and opera companies to stage genre-defining works. These included the epic “uShaka kaSenzangakhona,” the opera “Princess Magogo”, and the song cycle “Haya Mntwan’ Omkhulu”.

The ANC described Khumalo as a human encyclopedia on indigenous music, adding that he was able to capture the history of the country and tell the story of the nation through music.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. We express our deepest condolences to the Khumalo family; we appreciate his work, his dedication to South Africa—and we note the role he played, he is our hero and icon—a composer who blended the anthems Nkosi Sikelela I-Afrika and Die Stem into a new national anthem. Sidangele ngalamazwi. We say, celebrate his life, ”says Tsepo Mhlongo of the Democratic Alliance.

Still, some controversy was generated over a performance of Die Stem with Lord Bless Africa. Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists said she recalled hearing Die Stem at a memorial for Winnie Mandela at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and feeling uncomfortable. Yet, according to anthropologist David Coplan: “ ’Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ has come to symbolize more than any other piece of expressive culture the struggle for African unity and liberation in South Africa.”

Recordings of Mr. Khumalo’s choral works sung by the Gauteng Choristers. can be found on YouTube under the composer’s name. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 June 2021]

Photo: The late Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo helped create the new South African National Anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. (Bongiwe Mchunu/ANA)

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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