Strong ties bind Eastern Cape to journey to freedom

Enoch Sontonga – born in UitenhageIT IS no small feat that Enoch Sontonga – born in Uitenhage in 1872 – composed South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

And that the designer of South Africa’s iconic flag – said to be the world’s third-best known – attributes his success in heraldry to the nurturing of the Eastern Cape when he was a student at Rhodes University.

Sontonga’s descendants still live in Uitenhage and Frederick Brownell, now in his 70s, lives in Pretoria. Brownell also designed the Eastern Cape coat of arms.

“The powerful impact the Eastern Cape has on people is evident in the immense contributions of Enoch Sontonga and Frederick Brownell,” said Nomfundo wakwa Luphondwana, general manager of provincial communication in the Eastern Cape Office of the Premier.

“Today we celebrate 16 years of freedom and democracy. It marks a milestone in the history of our nation – and a time to reflect and celebrate the journey that we travelled to achieve our freedom and democracy.

“These two national heroes must be commended for the massive role they have played in shaping the symbolic backdrop of South African freedom.”

Sontonga’s beautiful hymn brought comfort and joy to millions of people during the struggle years.

“It reminds us of God’s blessing over our land and people, as we celebrate our unity and ability to forgive and overcome. We are also humbled when we are reminded of Enoch Sontonga’s modest, obscure and short life (he died aged 32) – and the incredible gift which he left us with,” said Luphondwana.

Sontonga – a teacher, choirmaster and lay preacher – wrote the hymn for his school choir in 1897 as a prayer for God’s blessing over South Africa and its people, and also composed the music.

The famous song was reworked after 1994, symbolising the union of South Africa’s people.

He trained as a teacher at Lovedale Training College in the Eastern Cape before going to Johannesburg, where he taught at the Methodist Mission School.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was first recorded in 1923, thanks to famous South African writer Sol Plaatje’s efforts. Seven verses were added by the Xhosa poet Samuel Mqhayi.

Brownell – who was born and raised on a farm in the former Orange Free State – came to the Eastern Cape in 1959 to study at Rhodes University.

“If it wasn’t for history and my inspiring lecturer Winifred Maxwell, I would not have ended up in the heraldry,” said Brownell of his Eastern Cape education.

Brownell was State herald from 1982 to 2002. He started sketching the flag when the crumbling apartheid government released Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.

“I had just finished the national flag of Namibia in 1990 when it became quite clear to me that the South African flag would have to change. I started soon afterward,” Brownell recalled.

“I couldn’t get there for a couple of years, then one day in about August 1993 it was as though a light bulb had gone off and I came up with the themes of convergence and unification.

“In many ways, the whole process we were going through was around those two ideas and a convergence of the history of flag colours was in order.”

His design, however, remained under cover as a nationwide public competition was under way, drawing in more than 7 000 designs from citizens. Six were presented, but none received support.

Brownell submitted his design only as an interim flag, given the short deadline for the April 27 elections and Nelson Mandela’s May 10 inauguration.

“The challenge was to find something that would be acceptable to (the whole population) – it’s like you have 40 million pairs of eyes on you, a scary process.

“When it came to the crunch, by 1995/96 the people at large had spoken and the interim flag was accepted. All I can say is I heaved an enormous sigh of relief that it had worked.”

Today the South African flag has been adopted as the logo of Brand South Africa, South African Tourism, the Proudly South African campaign and, more recently, it will be rolled out in the Eastern Cape as the Brand Eastern Cape version.

Asked how he felt knowing his design was the third most-recognised flag in the world, he humbly replied that he had had no real sense of the enormity until 1995, when he was awarded the world’s premier award for flag science in Poland. “I realised the enormity of things only after they had happened. I must stress there is no meaning to individual colours. It was a natural phenomenon – but with symbols, you know, they start to achieve a life of their own,” said Brownell.

He also designed the Eastern Cape coat of arms – another legacy he has left the province.

His trips by train to Alicedale and Grahamstown en route to university affected his imagery of the Eastern Cape.

“Hence the iconic use of aloes, an Nguni shield, the rising sun and many rivers of the province, but it’s only a small contribution,” he maintained. — By AMY SHELVER, The Herald, Avusa Group News

source: Daily Dispatch Online

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