Ashish Sewgoolam
Ashish Sewgoolam

FNB, the national anthem and patriotism

What’s a national anthem?

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary a national anthem is defined as a “solemn patriotic song officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity”. That’s a pretty clear definition.

Now, the question begs, how many South Africans stop where that definition ends and see it as nothing more? How many know the meaning of the words they probably learnt phonetically? How many can speak more than two national languages yet have five to get through in a song lasting a few minutes? Actually, with the current state of national education, how many can even speak one language properly, but that’s an issue for another day.

What I’m getting to as a root issue is patriotism and the greatest expression of patriotism is the singing of the national anthem. Our national anthem. Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.

South Africa is a proud nation. A nation that has overcome apartheid and in so doing avoided a racially charged civil war. A nation whose sports teams were at one time or another proven to be the best on the continent, some even the world. A nation whose people take pride in the land they come from. This is best displayed by the rousing renditions of the national anthem that echoes through sporting arenas across the country. The most recent being at Saturday’s Afcon opening match when Bafana Bafana took on Cape Verde, a nation whose entire population would just about fill the FNB/ National Stadium five times over. This coupled with the anticipated dismal performance of Bafana Bafana didn’t matter to anyone when it came time to sing the national anthem.

The almost 90 000 people in attendance belted out a rendition of the anthem that was rousing as ever, sending shivers down the spine of many a man, woman and child. But it reassured a disturbing truth that has been festering in my mind for some time now: the blind, unyielding pride and patriotism that South Africans have without question.

Standing up and singing the national anthem at the top of one’s voice seems to render all the issues this country faces futile. When the anthem is sung we all seem to have a unified culture — no issues with polygamy and songs about machine guns and killing farmers. Traditional issues don’t exist either — no problems with ritual bull slaughters and the lighting of fireworks. We’re all one big, happy, multiracial nation blinded to reality.

Fortunately I was not the only one to notice this. FNB who ironically ceded naming rights of the Soccer City Stadium for the Afcon tournament (for it to be called the National Stadium did too. In fact they took a stand to not be blindly patriotic and launched a campaign that asked the youth of the country (youth as in school children, not the ANC Youth League definition of ”youth”) what they thought the issues facing SA are and how they think they could be solved.

A bold move. A courageous move. A move to “inspire the nation”. Not so.

According to the ANC and the ANCYL, a move that is “treacherous”. A move that is tantamount to treason. A move that is “isn’t an advert — it’s a political statement. An attack on the president, his ministers and government as a whole”.

They have clearly upset the beast that is government and landed themselves in hot water. As a result, some of the ads have been pulled and their chief executive could find himself in even more trouble with a riled up ANCYL that seem ready to be judge, jury and executioner.

Was it right for a financial institution to lead with a politically charged campaign? I’m not too sure how I feel about that but that isn’t the point. The point is that somebody needed to see this blind patriotism that is so gleefully displayed and awaken the nation to reality. Show everyone what the youth is thinking and what is really happening in SA. Show South Africans that it is possible “to make a positive difference in building a stronger, unified, values-based nation”.

The nation needs to stop the blind, unyielding pride and patriotism we have in abundance. Stop looking at the US and instead of focussing our attention on the US presidential inauguration, turn the attention back home where it seems a fire has been ignited. After all the nation which we laud and look at as ”best practice” had a famous pop star sing their national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, at their presidential inauguration yesterday evening … and she lip-synced it.

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    • GrahamJ

      A song written to the tune of itsy-bitsy-spider is supposed to inspire the proletariat to say, ‘yes-anc’, ‘no-anc’, ‘three-bags-full-anc’ and bow when they see a blue light.

      Why can’t we all grow some cojones and just take these kinds of reactions to our shebeens and braais for comment and discussion? Why has everything to be so public and vitriolic?

      In short, why don’t we all grow up?

    • Tofolux

      @Ashish, when we have rampant racism going on unabated your voice is silent. When we see unwarranted attacks on women or children, your voice is silent. When we inhumane behaviour by farm owners on farm workers, you voice is silent. When we see rape on the most vulnerable ie mere babies, your voice is silent. When we see abuse of people who are mistaken for animals, your voice is silent. When we see people dragging caricatures of human beings, from the back of their bakkies, your voice is silent. When we see education eg giving us the results ie 2012, your voice is silent. When we see corporations monopolising food prices, your voice is silent. The list could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that when one choose to raise their voice, do they do so, on imagined, perceived or are they biased for a special reason? It is correct for govt to call FNB into order. For far too long do we see business in our South African who are confused about their roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, if FNB chooses to make political statement then do so without using and misrepresenting the voice of children. In fact, if they want to campaign against the ANC then we should also be allowed to campaign against FNB. Why should you want to enjoy the material conditions that this govt provides national or intnl and then kick govt in the teeth because you are now changing the playing field. FNB must choose of they are a bank or if they are an entity who is political and in opposition.

    • Donald Knight

      Yeah, I’d be a tad wary of following the ways of America…we can do better — as can the ANC and the rest of us. The children showed us how in those interviews. Instead of protesting, the ANC should take note and do something as a matter of urgency. After all, the issues the kids raised have been in the public domain for a long time. So it shows they are aware and this bodes well for the future.

    • Joe Nkosi

      I really don’t know why I read Tofolux’s comments. Need to stop.

      The ANC have become intolerant and paranoid. Two cardinal ingredients in the mixture for dictatorship.

      All of these groups that became enraged by FNB urgently put out press statements. They have been silent on Sasolburg. Complete vacuum of leadership. JZ too busy having breakfast with the Guptas.

    • Mr. Direct

      So it seems it is treason to speak out about the government. It is treason to give people a voice, especially children.

      What is difference between government sponsered advertising and corporate sponsered advertising? How can the government departments spend money on blowing their own trumpet, but individuals and companies are not?

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      Toflux: Your comment confuses me.
      I get the impression that you didn’t take the time to read my full post before having your tirade.
      If you did read the entire post you would see that I did mention education briefly in this opinion piece.
      Perhaps you should read my previous post, “India: Rape, uproar…silence” to see my ‘silence’ over “unwarranted attacks on women or children” and ” When we see rape on the most vulnerable”.
      I also said the following in this post: “Was it right for a financial institution to lead with a politically charged campaign? I’m not too sure how I feel about that but that isn’t the point. The point is that somebody needed to see this blind patriotism that is so gleefully displayed and awaken the nation to reality.”
      This post is not about whether “FNB must choose of [sic] they are a bank or if they are an entity who is political and in opposition.” It is about awakening South Africans to the reality that exists regarding all the issues that have been brought to the fore.

    • michael

      Ashish do not take tofolux to seriously.Her comments are based on one premise and conerstone, she worships zuma and the anc.Once you realise that everything she says makes sense and it makes it all very predictable.

    • Sipho Mazibuko

      The FNB ads are regarded as treasonous by the ANC as they were protraying the country in a very bad light, and are honestly inciteful. i’m suremthose kids were given scripts by Fnb to say the things they were saying, kids are worried by Justin Bieber and swag, they should not be cajoled into the political fray of this country. let kids be kids, let the politicians ‘politik’

    • Her Masters Voice


      Tofolux is confusing, its called political spin. Ignore it, keep writing sense. But for some reason people will always read political spin and have doubts, that is what keeps their masters in power.

    • Dave Harris

      Ashish, Tofolux is quite correct in pointing out your hypocrisy.
      You, like many of the usual suspects, you like Mitt Romney (US presidential candidate) believe that “corporations are people too”. This delusional view was soundly rejected in their last elections. Corporate political entities enable the 1% to rule over the majority in perpetuity. Other smaller companies e.g. Nandos have also tried to to exercise influence national politics by hiding behind our hard fought for, free speech rights. This kind of “satire” is employed by corporations to to peddle the divisive politics of the DA, is destructive to our society and the stability of our democracy in the long term because they only represent the interests of the 1%.

      If FNB was truly interested in uplifting people from poverty, it should first start by working together with other BANKSTERS, by not raping the poor with exorbitant bank fees, promote more blacks into senior management, stop exploiting the middle class with outrageous interest rates etc. etc. etc.

    • The Creator

      I constantly hear about this blind, unyielding pride and patriotism.

      Where, exactly, is it hiding? Because I don’t see any outside the propaganda of the media and the ruling parties, and obviously they’re out to discourage anybody from thinking.

      Incidentally, I shiver every time I hear the national anthem, because half of it is the anthem of apartheid and it constantly reminds me of that time. I would never dream of singing it and I’d stay away from any place I’m expected to stand up.

      (I notice, however, that lots of white people seem unhappy that there’s a bit of black people’s music tacked on at the end.)

    • Tofolox

      @Ashish, if you are going to be pedantic abt a typo error, then apologies, shud read if not of. But clearly, I am only dealing with one aspect of your letter ie FNB and clearly space does not allow point by point clarity. Allow me to reiterate. It seems that when we see unity in action ie singing the national anthem at a soccer match we want to cloud that particular act or show of patriotism with issues that are totally unrelated. In fact, if you are going to talk about patriotism why not call into question why some amongst do not sing our national anthem but choose to sing parts of it. Secondly, you need to deal with FNB making a political statement using children. What you do however, is deflect from this using ANCYL. Why not ask a proper question: should businesses be politicised and what does this mean for society going forward? Also, FNB is not a youth organisation and does not have a mandate to speak on behalf of the youth. You or FNB also cannot claim that they represent the majority of what youth is thinking, they do not. So what is the undercurrent agenda here? Ashish if FNB is serious about the youth or any of our issues they would bring us all together under various fora to talk about how we actively become agents of change on the ground and put money where we need it. You cannot simply arrogate yourself a mandate, script and structure (obvious) a message and say it comes from us. So they must be clear are they in politics or business?

    • Devin

      Blind Patriotism……

      When people show unyielding patriotic support for a political regime/party, even if it is the route of their own social/economic strife, it is usually due to:

      a) Lack of knowledge- either due to a poor education, or limited supply and/or understanding of the facts. Propoganda can also be used to then exploit this void.

      b) Fear-people will show support for the ruling party (even if not heart-felt), as they are afraid to stand up for their beliefs due to the possible ramifications (which can be extreme in RSA).

      Simply put, even if the average ANC supporter watches the FNB ads (which are spot on in the opinions of most educated/privileged bloggers), they will either not accept the message as the truth, or they will be too scared to publically side with the message.

      What baffles me (when it comes to blind patriotism), are the many educated black youth who still blindly support the the ruling party.

      PS, on the subject of America:

      I know everyone likes to poke fun at the US, but dont judge a book by what you see on CNN, or on the E! Network.

      Having lived there for a period of time, I found it very impressive how, regardless of the big division between left and right, when patriotism is REALLY needed (in dire conditions), most people join together and accomplish the task at hand.

    • Nkululeko

      What happened to plain right and wrong?

    • Joe Soap


      “The FNB ads are regarded as treasonous by the ANC as they were protraying the country in a very bad light, and are honestly inciteful.”

      Have you ever heard of free speech as a fundamental right under the South African constitution? Though its something the ANC seem to think they are above, really your thinking is no better that someone who would have supported the apartheid regime and its censorship.

    • Lennon

      @ The Creator: The anthem is a bit of an oddity – and a painful one for many.

      I have a problem singing it for two reasons:
      1) The old apartheid verses
      2) The hymn. I’m not religious so I can’t honestly say ‘God bless Africa’.

      At best I can only sing it as I agree with what I believe the anthem intends: That South Africa with all of its diverse peoples, cultures and natural wonders should prosper in peace.

    • Just a Thought

      @Tofulux and @dave harris

      Yet again your rage clouds your mind and your opinions go down that same worn out road.

      I think the biggest hypocrisy in this land is that there is no seperation between party and state. South africans are becoming dissalusioned with our GOVERNMENT which was elected to take decisions that are in the interests of all of us, not only the voting constituency who chose them. But, when people point fingers at the government, the ANC party and all its leagues take offence. Why? The ANC should also be a watchdog of government, not just the “opposition parties”. This closing ranks and baying at anybody who is unhappy is ridiculous.

      The chaos and violence we see is not because of apartheid, its because the people are desperate and not being heard/attended to now in January 2013.

    • Siya

      Ashish, with all due respect, I think this is a scrappy article. All nations sing their anthems when their National Teams partake in international events. It has more to do with the love of the sport, rather than pride with their countries…well, perhaps both. They all have their own problems, but that doesn’t mean they should cease to be patriotic. We have issues. We’ve always had serious issues, and as you mentioned in your article, we found solutions. New ones creep up, but why would our patriotism not help us find our way out of the problems we have as a country?
      Some sections of our society obsess with Africa’s problems, almost despise the continent. If you are one of them, the majority of South Africans certainly don’t share your ideals because they have no place they call home, other than South Africa, Africa

    • Barb Amsden

      The blog made me go to the FNB site and find the ad. Speaking as someone from very far away (Canada), no matter what the politics behind it, it is a beautiful message for any people, any age, any race, any time. Sit down, listen to the words, close your eyes (so you miss the ad at the end) and it is and should be inspirational everywhere. And as the young girl says, it is better to help and lift people up, in my view, than the reverse.

    • Tofolux

      @Just a Thought, the majority of SA’s support this govt and support the ruling party. It is incorrect to speak on behalf of SA’ns when you do not have a mandate to speak for them. Let me bring you back to the issue at hand. Major banks in this country must be apolitical. They represent the country in financial transactions both here and across the borders. When any citizen in this world deals with them, they must trust the credibility of that institution. The minute that inst becomes embroiled in politics it loses its credibility and that is common sense. Now clearly, if FNB and here it can be argued that NOT ALL of its employees agree with these ads, but if they have an issue they must address those issues on the necessary fora. I am sure that those who lived in the apartheid era have no problem with banks belonging to political parties eg Volkskas bank which was propped up and kept afloat by apartheid govt. SInce 1994 it has been difficult to bring credibility to our country and its institutions and if apartheid-thinking individuals think that we will simply imitate apartheid-like activities then that is a major problem.

    • Jean Wright

      I so agree with Barb Amsden, and also listened to the Ad, in which I found nothing ‘treasonous’, but which was enunciated clearly and thoughtfully. I found it heartening to hear young people articulate their hopes and views. Most encouraging. And if the Government found it critical of them, there is a saying about ‘the cap fitting’. But then, I am not a South African, and although I have lived here for twenty years, find it depressing to see it not achieving its potential through incompetence and corruption. There are many wonderful people in this country doing great work, they deserve better governance…

      It is a pity that many people here seem to confuse Patriotism with Political loyalty. It is not at all the same thing. One becomes stronger by listening to criticism, other ideas and constructively using these to improve oneself.

    • Stephen

      @ Tofolux: ” the majority of SA’s support this govt and support the ruling party”. Yes, but how many TAX paying South African’s support the ANC? 5%?

      Yet again your rage clouds your mind and your opinions go down that same worn out road.

      Well done FNB! Its every citizen’s duty to rage against this machine. It is broken.

      Viva free speech for all!

    • The Critical Cynic

      The Anthem is a farce, destined to be a millstone around our necks as long as the old apartheid verses remain (the merit of the words is not the issue).

      As far as the ANC reaction to the FNB adverts is concerned – I think the ANC have a point in their reaction by saying “This isn’t an advert – it’s a political statement. An attack on the president, his ministers and government as a whole,”.

      Some of the thoughts expressed in the adverts do have a political angle and unfortunately for the ANC they happen to be the party in power that doesn’t deliver text books, doesn’t provide adequate safety and security to its citizens, doesn’t deliver on its repeated promises irrespective of whether they are achievable or not, doesn’t root out graft and corruption to the satisfaction of the people. Who else should take the blame for this mess of an administration, this poor governance, this self-serving disregard for the poor?

      Yes, the ANC are correct, it is a political statement, and hats of to FNB for yet again having the guts, albeit short-lived, to use their power to promote creative thinking about our future. Thumbs down to the ANC for not using the adverts as a point of departure for constructive positive improvement initiatives. The ANC reaction was to be expected – they don’t like criticism at the best of times, but when the truth hurts this bad keeping quiet is almost impossible. It’s like asking a child who has scalded herself not to whimper like a little…

    • Tofolux

      To all of those who have congratulated FNB for their “bravery” can I ask now that FNB has apologised for their ill-conceived wrongdoing, how the congratulators now feel?

    • seriously

      I feel the government should heed the opinions , our goverment goes straight to threats and attacks instead of listening . Freedom of speech is a fundamental right as in chapter 2 of the bill of rights . Why do we have freedom of speech ever thought about it ? When you deprive people of thois right you create a foundation for a dictation . Only recently we had a spear painting debacle ,which if laughed off like the rest of the countries did whould have been a joke and not a problem . Then we have Zapiro , taken to court because the ruling party doesnt like his cartoons , then we have FNB ad that was silenced and Protection of Information Bill trying to get passed . Seems to me that this is all heeping up and that the state has a hush hush attitude . Why do we need to keep information a secret , why do we have to silence people ? Work to a better South Africa for all then you have no reason to deny the people a fundamental human right . The people have a right to be heard and not suppressed , or are we a dictatorship and not a democracy?