“Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyis’ uphondo lwayo
Yiva imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela, Thina lusapho lwayo”
“Lord, bless Africa
May her horn rise high up
Hear Thou our prayers
And bless us.”
With xenophobic attacks spreading in the Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal regions of South Africa, it appears that the instigators of this violence have forgotten the history their country shares with the rest of the continent. During apartheid, it was independent Africa that supported South African nationalists in their struggle for freedom and justice. Before his imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela made a trip around the continent, seeking aid for the ANC – and in most cases, receiving it. Zimbabwe, the leader of the frontline states in Southern Africa, condemned apartheid and often called for economic sanctions against the South African government. Now, in an attempt to find scapegoats for the social and economic problems facing the country, some South Africans have turned to “foreign” Africans living in the country as the cause for the high rate of unemployment. Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Malawians, and hundreds of other people who hail from the rest of Africa, have been targeted in the recent attacks.
In so doing, the spirit embodied by South Africa’s national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” or “Lord Bless Africa,” has been erased. The song became a pan-African liberation anthem in the twentieth century, and was adopted as the national anthem of not only South Africa, but of Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe as well. In this way, the song not only embraced differences within South Africa’s borders itself, but also united it with the rest of the African continent and the very countries that had harbored and supported the exiled ANC during the apartheid years. “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” was not just a South African song, but an African one too. Willard Rhodes points out that “the folklike simplicity of the melody and the sincerity and deeply felt sentiment of the words made a direct and instantaneous appeal to all Africans who were beginning now to extend their horizons beyond the limits of their individual tribes.”
This Pan-African sentiment of continental unity has failed to garner an effective response from either the SADC or the African Union. Jacob Zuma condemned the violence in parliament, but police in Durban and Johannesburg have been unable to fully curb the attacks. On April 16, thousands of people gathered in Durban to protest the violence, chanting, “a united Africa!” and holding signs showing solidarity for their fellow Africans. But not all elements in the country realize this, and the violence has continued. This is not the first time that xenophobia has reached this level in South Africa – in 2008, 62 people were killed in riots. South Africa’s struggles have always been African ones, too. And until Africa figures out a way to deal with the problem, together, the violence will continue to flare up.
 Willard Rhodes, “Music as an Agent of Political Expression,” African Studies Bulletin 5 (1962): 17.