Every so often, when my schedule allows and deadlines aren’t coming at me as thick and fast as they normally do, I spend an hour or two volunteering at an urban farm close to my home in Cape Town.
Sometimes, I help place tiny seeds in polystyrene planting trays and other times I clear weeds from the veggie beds. It’s nothing fancy and I love it precisely because of this. A couple of hours away from my laptop, feeling the sun on my shoulders and inhaling the scent of earth and soil.
(The inherent privilege of considering this sort of labour a luxury isn’t lost on me.)
Another thing I love about the farm is the fact that it is very urban indeed and surrounded by the bustle of daily city life: cars driving past; garbage trucks beeping as they back up close to a driveway; the far-off hum of a helicopter; dogs barking excitedly as they get taken for their morning walk; and the joyful breaktime cacophony of the primary school close by.
Yesterday, while plucking stinging nettles from the cabbage patch, I tuned in to the children’s voices and couldn’t help but giggle at a few of the interactions/conversations I overheard. In one corner of the playground, two little girls searched for a penguin and somewhere else a boy belted out ‘We Will Rock You’ while strumming what sounded like a banjo.
Eventually, the various individual voices melted away into the schoolyard din and a short period of almost quiet ensued.
But not for long.
Out of nowhere, a croaky voice rose above the rest again:
“‘Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeh
O se boloke (Ntate)
O se boloke
– South Africa”
Singing from the bottom of their heart, the child articulated the words clearly, ending in a mighty crescendo upon reaching the second ‘South Africa’.
I smiled to myself.
It reminded me of that one time – while camping at Ai-Ais after completing the Fish River Canyon – I woke early one morning to a particularly exuberant rendition of the national anthem coming from the tent next door.
It was the voice of our friends’ sweet six-year-old son, who had obviously been gripped by a sudden bout of patriotism in his efforts to stay busy while the grown-ups slept.
From the campsite beyond their tent, I heard the delighted laughter of our neighbours and then how a few of them gently joined in.
Funny and touching and almost a little ethereal.
It also made me think of News24’s recent Anthem Project and all the sweet little faces captured on camera spontaneously singing our nation’s song. Like this cute dinosaur-shirt-wearing 3-year-old and this serious-minded 8-year-old and this little girl with her pink guitar and this little boy with his pink mic.
And all of a sudden I found myself wondering:
Is there any other country in the world with a national anthem that has managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of its youngest citizens quite as emphatically as ours?
While I can’t say for sure, I’d hazard a guess that the answer is almost certainly no.
And maybe, in these times of economic crisis and political instability, that’s got to count for something. Right?
P.s. If you want to read another article filled with national pride, check out my friend Jenna’s thoughts on going to Loftus for the first time to watch the Springboks take on Argentina this past weekend.