“Milk tart,” Vetfaan’s reaction is immediate. “Real milk tart with cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the top, cooled enough to be firm but warm enough to drip from your spoon. No question, guys, that’s the taste of youth.”
“Mmmm…I feel the same about souskluitjies. My grandmother used to make those dumplings so fluffy, so soft, that they melted in your mouth. We ate serving after serving – much to the old lady’s delight – until we were so stuffed we could barely walk!” The nostalgic smile on Precilla’s face says it all.
Boggel remains quiet while the others chat away about melkkos, various ways to do a fillet and another favourite, bobotie. The thing that transports him back to his youth, is no longer around. It is politically incorrect. It is banned for all the wrong reasons. When C J Langenhoven penned the poem in 1918, he surely was blessed to be ignorant of his verses’ fate.
It is a song of longing, of loyalty and of trust. It tells of a beautiful country in hauntingly stirring words, emphasizing the requirement of hard work and steadfast faith. In the song, the words travel through the seasons of life, acknowledging the requirement to build and preserve for future generations.
But then, of course, things changed. The history of the country got politicized to reflect ‘indigenous’ rights and values. The Old World was past and the New Age embraced with enthusiasm. Out with the old flag, in with the new. And with the new street names, town names and new provinces, a bit of the old song was retained to at least remember that we once had an anthem that inspired the people to work, to build and to pray.
Yes, Boggel knows the beauty of Nkosi Sikelel, the song that did service as an anthem to countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia at various times during the 1900’s; written in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga as a hymn. It is a song about Africa, a calling down of blessing. But, the bent little barman wonders, what did the song inspire in the end? Is the beseechment of Nkosi really part of our culture any longer? Does South African society respond to the hymn with dignity, honesty and pride – or are we living in a corrupt society where crime, murder and rape are part of our daily lives? Is the new anthem – the hybrid of Nkosi Sikelel and The Call – a just reflection of what we believe in?
There was a time, Boggel remembers, that he sung The Call, believing every word.
| Fourth verse
Afrikaans English LITERAL tRANSLATION
|Op U Almag vas vertrouend||In thy power, Almighty, trusting,||On your almight steadfast entrusted|
|het ons vadere gebou:||Did our fathers build of old;||Had our fathers built:|
|Skenk ook ons die krag, o Here!||Strengthen then, O Lord, their children||Give to us also the strength, o Lord!|
|Om te handhaaf en te hou.||To defend, to love, to hold-||To sustain and to preserve.|
|Dat die erwe van ons vadere||That the heritage they gave us||That the heritage of our fathers|
|Vir ons kinders erwe bly:||For our children yet may be;||For our children heritage remain|
|Knegte van die Allerhoogste,||Bondsmen only to the Highest||Servants of the almighty,|
|Teen die hele wêreld vry.||And before the whole world free.||Against the whole world free.|
|Soos ons vadere vertrou het,||As our fathers trusted humbly,||As our fathers trusted,|
|Leer ook ons vertrou, o Heer:||Teach us, Lord to trust Thee still;||Teach us also to trust, o Lord:|
|Met ons land en met ons nasie||Guard our land and guide our people||With our land and with our nation|
|Sal dit wel wees, God regeer.||In Thy way to do Thy will.||It will be well, God reigns.|
Yes, Boggel knows those words aren’t sung any more.
But that’s the song of his youth, the song when he still hoped for a better future.
And now, of course, the words will be lost to future generations. They’ll plead blessings from N’kosi while the decay of society eats away at the canvas of our civilisation.
“Okay, Boggel!” Vetfaan’s eyes the quiet barman with a raised eyebrow. “What transports you back to your younger days?”
Boggel looks up, suddenly aware of them all looking at him.
“Oh? Nothing much, I suppose. I’m just wondering about old poems and rhymes.” He squares his shoulders and sighs. “Perhaps politicians haven’t changed all that much and maybe one should acknowledge both past and present flaws in our government. But, damn it guys, nobody can take away memories. We remember what we choose to, which is a bit sad. How easily we forget!
“So…the thing that takes me back, is music. The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Bob Dylan…. And Langenhoven, of course.”
Initially, only Gertruida grasps what he said. She walks around the counter to hug the small man.
“The melody was by Marthinus Lourens de Villiers, Boggel. Langenhoven only wrote the words.”
The group falls silent while they listen to the old song in their minds. One by one they realise they have forgotten some of the words. Time, they all realise, can be extremely cruel, but somehow the brain does not forget melodies as easily as words. But…even the snippet remaining in the current anthem is enough. When they close their eyes, they remember all too well what the song had meant back in their younger days.
“We won’t forget The Call,” Servaas says, raising his glass.
He’s right, of course…
Today, no song is added to the words. The only song fitting this piece, has been tarnished by politics. Yet, it is my hope that people will revisit this song of their youth – not in an attempt to rekindle antagonism, but to simply look again at the words. Forget the anthem, consider the poem. The Call might be associated with Apartheid, and for those who do, I extend a hand of friendship. Yes, condemn the government who operated while The Call was the anthem – but try to remember that it was written in 1918, long before it was chosen as an anthem until 1957. It was the work of a brilliant man who loved his country.
We can certainly do with more of the sentiment Langenhoven expressed so eloquently.