South Africa, the country of sunshine and soccer. But beneath that sun-kissed veneer, lie the scars of a turbulent past.
The Apartheid regime in South Africa saw a government legislate segregation. It was perhaps no worse than the segregation between blacks and whites in the United States, but in South Africa it was law. Convicted of sabotage as a member of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) and considered a terrorist, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a prison cell. After his release in 1990, Mandela worked tirelessly to bring about much-needed change to a country devolving into violence and hatred. His long walk to freedom culminated in the first truly democratic elections since the Apartheid regime came into power, and in 1994 Mandela became the president of South Africa. The country reeled in the bliss of freedom and the promise of better things to come. In 1995, the promise of South Africa rising from the quagmire of racism and international sanctions became tangible when Francois Pienaar led the Springbok rugby team to victory in the Rugby World Cup. Here was the hope Eddy Grant had been singing about.
Guyanan-born reggae artist Eddy Grant wrote the song “Gimme Hope Jo'anna” in the 1980s, long before Mandela's release. The song was banned in South Africa, the lyrics spouting anti-regime sentiments tantamount to blasphemy, calling the country out on its use of violence in dealing with the Soweto uprising of 1976, its soldiers' participation in the Angolan civil war, and its use of propaganda to spread pro-Apartheid ideas.
The Jo'anna of Grant's song is the personification of Johannesburg. Though not the capital of South Africa, Joburg is the biggest city and a cultural melting pot in which you can find representatives of all of South Africa's major cultures; and for a country with 11 official languages, that's a lot. It is also known as the city of gold, as translated from the Zulu name eGoli, and is the “it” and “happening” place of the country.
Though Eddy Grant never visited South Africa, his song struck a chord with the locals, and despite the ban, the song was played in homes and at private parties. After 1994 it became an unofficial national anthem and was played repeatedly on major radio stations. Such was the atmosphere post-1994. The irony is that, despite Mandela's dream and all that he and De Klerk worked so hard to achieve, South Africa succumbed to a reverse racism. Blacks were understandably angry for the years of suppression and this anger was taken out on the white minority by both government officials and civilians. Julius Malema - leader of the ANC Youth League and the man current president Jacob Zuma touted as the next leader of South Africa - was convicted of hate speech in 2010. Malema is perhaps most notoriously known for the use of his anthem Shoot the Boer, “boer” being the Afrikaans word for farmer and a derogatory term for whites in general. The attitude of these individuals towards the white populace is pretty clear and is definitely not the political sentiment Mandela aimed for, nor the sentiment of hope and joy for which Eddy Grant's song is renowned.
Sadly, this powerful, uplifting song was reduced to little more than a jingle by Yop, the yoghurt-based drink, for a commercial in which the lyrics were changed to “give me Yop (me mama) when the morning come.”
But politics and yoghurt commercials aside, “Gimme Hope Jo'anna” is an upbeat reggae tune with a suitably ethnic vibe maintaining the punchy rhythm beneath Grant's heavily accented lyrics. The inclusion of the pennywhistle tune is particularly “African-sounding” and similar to the whistle melodies used by definitively South African pop group Mango Groove. Despite the lively quality of this song - designed to get toes tapping - the lyrics are really the most important feature. And while South Africa will forever bear the stigma of Apartheid, the hope Grant had for the rainbow nation has been immortalized in this song, hope that should never be forgotten in the face of politics. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
"The Archbishop who's a peaceful man" is a reference to Desmond Tutu, the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town who received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid.
Album : File Under Rock Released : 1988 UK chart position : 7