We Remember Enoch Sontonga

Names: Sontonga, Enoch Mankayi

Born: 1873, Eastern Cape

Died: 18 April 1905

In summary: Composer and author of the first stanza of Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika, the anthem South Africa adopted after its first democratic elections in 1994.

Enoch Sontonga was born in the Eastern Cape around 1873 as a member of the Mpinga clan, a part of the Xhosa-speaking section of the South African nation.

He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Training College after which he was sent to a Methodist Mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg in 1896. He taught here for nearly 8 years. Sontonga was an artistic man and was also the choirmaster at his school, as well as an amateur photographer. He married Diana Mgqibisa, the daughter of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who passed away in 1929, years after his death.

Sontonga was a distinguished and productive poet and also preached in his church on occasion. He wrote the first verse of our anthem as a hymn for his school choir and it was first sung at the ordination of South Africa's first Black Methodist minister in 1899. Sontonga lived in Pimville, Soweto, and died at the young age of 32 in 1905. He was buried in the ‘non-White' section of the Braamfontein Cemetery in Johannesburg.

Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika was first recorded in 1923 as a result of Sol Plaatje's efforts, and verses were added by the Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi. The entire song was published in a pamphlet in 1927 by Lovedale Press and has since been included in the Presbyterian Xhosa hymnbook. By 1925 Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika had become the official song of the African National Congress (ANC) and was also sung during the British Royal visit in 1947. In the 1960's Zambia adopted the song as its national anthem.

In 1994 Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika and “Die Stem van Suid Afrika”, the old South African anthem, became our official national song. Sontonga's grave was declared a national monument on 24 September of the same year. The Gold Order of Meritorious Service was posthumously awarded to Sontonga for his service to our country.


Walker, G. (1996). Enoch Mankayi Sontonga. National Monuments Council [Online]. Available at: anc.org.za. [Accessed on 30 March 2009]

Biography Retrieved from South African History Online at http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/enoch-mankayi-sontonga

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