Harold Strachan's Last Word

Fiddle-de-dee. Sound advice

Well, when they’ve dug up Rhodes’s evil bones in Zim and hurled them down the abandoned shaft of his favourite old gold mine in Gauteng, when they’ve dumped a whole lot of rocks on top with a bulldozer, and tipped in Joey’s municipal refuse so no racist madpersons can make a shrine of it, and when we’ve called our misbegotten country Ancenia and tippexed every piece of paper with South Africa written on it, and... and... you know what I mean... then we’ll settle down to the Big One: a new national anthem. I mean, Inkosi Sikelele is okay but by the time the singing of it is over at the stadium the sun’s going down and there’s no time for the rugby. And anyway it’s all about God and we are supposed to be a secular country, are we not?

So now, take an unfortunate lesson from Australia, where they forgot that a camel is a racehorse designed by a committee and appointed one for the anthem job, which came up with a piece of doggerel so abysmal as to sicken all citizens, certain states just sticking with th’Almighty saving Queenie Windsor. It is called Advance Australia Fair and in brief it says that Australia has a whole lot of v. nice trees and nice golden beaches if you like surfing and if you are good at business you can get v. rich and that’s nice too. Choon? Hel, man, they could have got a Vrystaat Boereorkes to cheer it all up a bit. I’d thought there was a competition, and submitted the following:

Once a woolly wumboot
widdled in a gooligong
under the shade of a nullarboo tree, And he sighed as he sang
and waited while his willy weed
You’ll never take me alive says he. Down come a shagman
 peeping in the gooligong,
up come his dingbat one, two, three, And he sang as he stuffed
that wumboot in his sleeping bag
You’ll come a-tiddla-widdling
Walter with me.

One should take note that music of the above should be of solemn measure, as befits a nation’s sacred sensibilities, something in the nature of Deutschland über Alles by the composer Josef Haydn who specialised in solemnity.

But no simple acknowledgement of my submission, music or words, came from the Anthem Selection Committee, if only as a matter of common courtesy. Why, Poet Laureate the Hon. Spichael Milligan himself submitted an anthem of great fervour, and he too was callously ignored. His submission went thus:

Austrailia Austrailia
we think of you each day
Austrailia Austrailia
at work and a-at play.
We think of you each morning,
and in the evening too,
We even wake up at midnight
so that we can think of you,
Austrailia Austrailia
we love you from the heart,
The kidneys, the liver and the giblets too
And every other part.

So then, what’s to do? Why, easy, los the committee idea altogether and just employ Ladysmith Black Mambazo to make us an anthem. Straight. No specialist music critic from Pretoria to give us a R5,000,000 five-minute opinion of the words, another five million for opinion of the melody, no R240 million skandaal, just plain concert rates from the country’s best traditional musicians.

The orator Moses Mabhida comes to mind, at Currie’s Fountain bantu football field, Durbs, 1950s. Unlawful assemblies, these: thousands of souls jam-packing the ground, and he on the not-so-grandstand chewing on a matchstick as was his oratorial style. Unpretentious gatherings: housemaids, garden boys, full-on factory working proles, old men with walking sticks, young men with carrying sticks. Young mums. Street loafers. The lot. And when Mo gave it to them he gave it straight: this is a struggle for redistribution of wealth. And always always, when the crowd had got the message the closely blended singing would start, spontaneously, and the slow swaying soft-shoe dancing: We will not relent, even though we are imprisoned, only give us freedom. I can’t think of anywhere else in this world where rebellious political meetings end in intuitive song and slinky dance. Song is the African art medium.

And Black Mambazo has it. A cappella singing group, all male, plus, blow me down, of all things a solo violin to sing a soft soprano part. You think of the great bold Baroque and Romantic European orchestras when I say the word “violin”, do you? Well I tell you, dear reader, if you first ever heard it as part of Zulu isicathamiya music you’d swear down blind it was an old trad African instrument. It doesn’t shout at you, it has no glorious crescendos, it sings modestly for you, personally, it speaks gently, it smiles with you. And that’s what we need for our ailing culture. We are not a nation of blustering bullshit heroes proclaiming our superiority on this ailing earth.

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