Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school in Johannesburg. It was one of many songs he composed, and he was apparently a keen singer who composed the songs for his pupils.
The words of the first stanza were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn. In 1927 seven additional Xhosa stanzas were later added by Samuel Mqhayi, a poet.
Most of Sontonga's songs were sad, witnessing the suffering of African people in Johannesburg, but they were popular and after his death in 1905 choirs used to borrow them from his wife.
Solomon Plaatje, one of South Africa's greatest writers and a founding member of the ANC, was the first to have the song recorded. This was in London in 1923. A Sesotho version was published in 1942 by Moses Mphahlele.
The Rev J L Dube's Ohlange Zulu Choir popularised Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika at concerts in Johannesburg, and it became a popular church hymn that was also adopted as the anthem at political meetings.
For decades Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika was regarded as the national anthem of South Afrika by the oppressed and it was always sung as an act of defiance against the apartheid regime. A proclamation issued by the State President on 20 April 1994 stipulated that both Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and Die Stem (the Call of South Africa) would be the national anthems of South Africa. In 1996 a shortened, combined version of the two anthems was released as the new National Anthem.
There are no standard versions or translations of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika so the words vary from place to place and from occasion to occasion. Generally the first stanza is sung in Xhosa or Zulu, followed by the Sesotho version.