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Wed, 06.04.1873

Enoch Sontonga, Lyricist born

Enoch Sontonga

*The birth of Enoch Sontonga is celebrated on this date in, c. 1873. He was a Black South African composer, and minister.

Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, a Xhosa, was born in the city of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape Colony. He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Institution and subsequently worked as a teacher and choirmaster at the Methodist Mission school in Nancefield, near Johannesburg for eight years.

The first verse and chorus of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" was composed in 1897 and it was originally intended to be a school anthem. Some sources say he wrote the tune the same year, but others contend that the song was written by Joseph Parry as "Aberystwyth" and that Sontonga merely wrote new words. It was first sung in public in 1899 at the ordination of Reverend Mboweni, who was the first Tsonga Methodist minister. Later the Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi wrote a further seven verses. Sontonga married Diana Mngqibisa and had a son.

Enoch Mankayi Sontonga, who is best known for writing the song "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" died on April 18, 1905, his wife died in 1929. For many years, the site of Sontonga's grave was unknown, but it was finally located in the "Native Christian" section of the Braamfontein cemetery in the early-1990s. One of the reasons why the location of his grave remained a mystery is that it was listed under the name "Enoch" and not by his surname "Sontonga".

On September 24, 1996, Sontonga's grave was declared a national monument, and a memorial on the site was unveiled by then-President Nelson Mandela. At the same ceremony, the South African Order of Meritorious Service (Gold) was bestowed on Enoch Sontonga posthumously.

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