The October 10 1997 Government Gazette announced that the national anthem committee, chaired by Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, had completed its work. The professor had presided over the successful animation of a creature. A creature comprised of parts taken from the bodies of each of our lived histories. For one group this creature was a repugnant monster that joined the best of their history with the worst of others. For another group it was a welcome effort at stitching the dismembered organs of our society back into a single body. EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi has come out and declared one of the limbs of the creature as being gangrenous. He fears the creature’s condition critical, albeit stable. He fears this creature might not live to realise its potential if we do not immediately amputate this gangrenous limb.

As the generation of House MD, we sit here patiently waiting for Dr Gregory House before we undertake differential diagnosis on the limb. But real life has denied us, this time, the eccentric genius of Dr House. So this is our mission, we must fulfil it and dare not betray it.

What’s that? Ndlozi is on radio again? What’s he saying? What? The gangrene is hastened by the singing of the band Steve Hofmeyr and Die Stemmers. Okay we’ll have to start differential diagnosis without Dr House, stat.

flickr/Insomnia Cured

The head is from Enoch Sontonga. Created in 1897 as a hymn asking for God to lift his countenance on Africa. It was first heard in public at the ordination of a Methodist minister in 1899. In 1923 it was recorded by Sol Plaatje to the piano accompaniment of Sylvia Colenso. It was sung in churches and in 1925 became the official anthem sung at the end of ANC meetings. For black people, it became a symbol for their hope and aspiration to a better life in the face of dispossession, dehumanisation and delegitimisation.

The legs are from CJ Langenhoven. Created in 1918 as an Afrikaans poem extolling devotion to South Africa. In 1921 ML de Villiers set music to the poem. It was first sung in public in 1928. It became the national anthem and played at the end of SABC broadcasts. It became a symbol of the recognition of Afrikaans as a proper language. Afrikaans was declared an official language in 1925, having subsisted previously as merely “kitchen Dutch”. Up until that point Dutch and English were the official languages. It was further a living monument to the struggle of Afrikaners for self-determination in the face of British colonial rule.

The torso is from Moses Mphahlele. Published in 1942. Still awaiting X-rays and blood work for this.

To identify the type of infection we need to see if it’s congenital or if it was introduced long after birth. The infection was most pronounced after 1948 when the limb came into contact with apartheid. But initial spawning of the infection may have actually occurred as early as April 6 1652. The records from 1652 till 1948 highlight that the infection was already present in the environment during that period. This means that if the infection is not congenital then the limb may have been infected at birth by the environment of its birth. Does this mean its environment doomed it from birth? That in the wake of the South Africa war it was nothing but an Anthem for Doomed Youth, a youthful Afrikaner nation.

Determining whether the infection is congenital is material because it informs the debate on whether this limb can ever help us toward a united South Africa. Is there reason for us to believe we can discount the infection by the environment argument? In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe constructs a memoir to the notion that idyllic as pre-colonial African life may have been, life then was brutish and not the stuff of revisionist romanticism. Alternative reading means, in those times infection abounded. In light of this it may be ahistorical to contend that all that was born in an infected environment is ultimately infected also. This warrants us to grant the benefit of doubt that environmental action at birth does not condemn each birth to infection.

So, if not infected by the environment at birth then is it possible that the limb in and of itself is infected? That it is irredeemable? After a quick glance at the limb our intuition suggests not. Doing a structural analysis of this limb indicates this intuition is not misguided. The limb is at its core healthy and merely acquired the infection via usage.

Is there a possible treatment, vaccination? Through the introduction of antibodies to neutralise the infection, the limb can become a healthy member of the body. But the continued presence of these antibodies will always serve as a reminder of the infection with which this limb is afflicted.

Final diagnosis: the infection is not congenital and can be neutralised. Yes, the band Steve Hofmeyr and Die Stemmers does exacerbate the infection. But that is no reason to overreact and amputate the limb. The limb does serve a purpose. Perhaps advances in stem-cell research might afford us a new anthem altogether and not one merely constituted from many donors. Until such a point, there is no reason to become reactionary and discard the limb because Steve Hofmeyr and Die Stemmers threaten the health of the creature. They threaten it with a type of singing that shows disregard for its effect on the infection.

Prognosis: I do suspect that by the time stem-cell advances come around we might have become too fond of our creature to grow one anew.

Twitter: @melomagolego



Melo Magolego

Mandela Rhodes Scholar. Fulbright scholar. California Institute of Technology. MSc in electrical engineering.

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