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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.