Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (2003) Lee Hirsch

Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (2003) Lee Hirsch

This movie shows the close interaction of music and the national liberation of South Africa. In 1948 the descendants of the early Dutch settlers, called the Boers

(farmers) or Afrikaaners ( the Dutch who settled in Africa) regained political control of the country because of their higher birthrates and parliamentary districting

that allocated seats by size of geographical districts and not the numbers of people in them. Only whites could vote in national elections; whites came to be only 1/5

or 20% of the population of South Africa. Others were from African peoples: Xhosa. Zulu, Tswana, Venda, Ndebele, Swazi, Sotho and Tsonga and the people of mixed race

referred to by the whites as Coloureds who form the majority of the western half of the country.

Like other Africans, the blacks in South Africa yearned to play a political role in their country and to remove the control of land and the economy from the white

minorities, who were mostly of Dutch and English descent. Other white minorities were Greek merchants and Jewish refugees from the pogroms and anti-Semitism from

Eastern Europe. The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to regain democratic rights for Africans. When their movement was thoroughly stymied by the control of

the white minorities and international business groups and mining interests in the country they formed the Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation military units of

the ANC to fight for the liberation of south Africa. They deliberately avoided civilian targets and primarily attacked infrastructure and military targets. In 1964,

their leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life. After 27 years, he was released in 1990 and became the first president elected on the principles of one man, one

vote in 1994. As you will see in this film, there were whites involved in the liberation of South Africa too; many of them were members of the South African Communist

Party. Some of them, like Ruth First, died in this struggle. Each stage of the struggle was accompanied by musical forms of resistance that gave the people of South

Africa inspiration and encouragement to continue the struggle. Leaders were faced with imprisonment, torture, execution exile, interruption of their educations,

destruction of their families and being forced to turn government informants.

South Africa

Try to identify the periods and contributions of these people and musical compositions and songs.

1. As the movie opens the remains of the musician Vuyisile Mini are being exhumed. He was hung with Wilson Kayinga and Zinakile Mkaba in 1964 for belonging to Umkhonto

we Sizwe and accused of many acts of sabotage and the death of an African informant. They were all reburied as heroes in 1998 in Port Eliizabeth.. He was famous for

the 1950’s protest song: ‘Pasopa nansi ‘ndondemnyama we Verwoerd ‘, (‘Look out, Verwoerd, here are the Black people’). What was the purpose of this song? Imagine

singing it to a group of white soldiers who likely don’t understand the Xhosa African language.

2. In the 1950’s the Apartheid (separateness) regime started the removals of African peoples in places like District 6 and Sophiatown to remote mass housing in

“townships” like Meadowlands and Soweto from which they now had long train rides to get to work in urban areas. These were the labor holding containers. How do Mariam

Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and Sophie Mgcina describe Meadowlands?

3. World famous jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim talks about the psychological impact of apartheid and the role of music. What were they?

[A lawyer smuggled a piece of Abdullah Ibrahim’s music into Robin Island and locked the doors and played it on the loud speaker system. It was the first music that

Nelson Mandela had heard for decades. ]

4. The call and response of Amandla! Power! Or, A Promise of Power, is answered by Ngawethu or Awethu! “Is Ours”. These are words in Xhosa and Zulu that began and

ended most public rallies and meetings. There was also a singing of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika   which became the national anthem of South Africa. What is the mood and

meaning of this song? It was originally composed in Xhosa 1897 by Enoch Sontonga as a church hymn. It now has verses in Zulu, Afrikaans Sesotho and English. Listen to

it now

Lord Bless Africa

Current English Translation

Lord, bless Africa?May her spirit rise high up?Hear thou our prayers?Lord bless us.

Lord, bless Africa?May her spirit rise high up?Hear thou our prayers?Lord bless us Your family.


Descend, O Spirit?Descend, O Holy Spirit?Lord bless us?Your family.


Why would it be suitable as a song of national resistance? What does playwright and historian Duma Ka Ndlovu say was its purpose?

5. Another famous jazz musician is Hugh Masekela. He explains the significance of trains in the lives of South Africans, I his song, “Stimela”. What was it? Why was

gold mining so profitable in South Africa?

6. Mariam Makeba is one of the most famous singers from South Africa. What does she say is the experience of black nannies of white children? How is this reflected in

the song “Madame Please” by Sophie Mgsina:

Madam please Before you laugh at your servant’s English Try to speak to him in his Zulu language. Madam please, Before you complain your servant stinks, Try washing

your clothes in a Soweto sink. Madame please before you shout about your broken plate, Ask me what my children ate.   Madame please, before you ask me if your children

are fine, ask me when I last saw mine.

7. From the 1950’s African nationalists led demonstrations against unjust apartheid laws. They entered whites only railway stations, went to whites only beaches and

burned their pass books. Their efforts were met with arrests. When the Sharpeville Massacre of unarmed demonstrators killed 69 and wounded 176, the leaders of the ANC

decided to attack military instillations. Over 1,000 arrests were made; Nelson Mandela, a lawyer, was imprisoned for life. From the dock he made a long speech

explaining his position and the relationship between the South African Communist Party and the ANC. He ended by saying:

“Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country,

because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the

enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of

one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own

experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to

live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Read this long and complete speech read at and

In light of this, what is the purpose of Mariam Makeba’s song “Nonqonqo Prison?”

8. Africans were demoralized by arrests, torture, executions, leaving for military training and actions, the breaking up of families, and exile. How did exile affect

these famous musicians?

Mariam Makeba:

Abdullah Ibrahim:

Hugh Masekela:

9. What is the point of the song “Senzeni Na” that emerged in the 70’s according to musician and cultural activist Sibongile Khumalo?

Listen to it performed in by a multi racial students from Cape Town at       in 2010

Lyrics: ” Senzenina /Sohlangana ezulwini”?Translation: “What have we done / we shall meet in heaven “” Our only sin is being black” It is the equivalent to which song

in the US Civil Rights struggle period?

10. In 1976, school children were shot down in the Soweto Uprising because they refused to what?? Deaths were officially pout at 176 but may have been as high as 700.

June 16th is commemorated as Youth Day in South Africa today.

11. Thandi Modise was one of the students who had planned a great future as a doctor but ended up going out of the country to fight with MK. When burying the comrades

who were shot down, what did the youth do rather than cry?

12. How did Mannenberg of Abdullahi Ibrahim express the optimism of the ‘70”s Hear it’s story at

Mannenberg he says is the equivalent of the Sowety township outside Johannesburg but in Cape Town. People removed from the multi-racial, multi-cultural community of

District Six were removed to Mannenberg.

13. As more students left school to join MK, how did the music have to change? What did the militants in the cities who were recruited do on Thursdays that is

reflected in the song “ Shonamalanga” –Sheila’s Day.

14. What were the assignments of Thandi Modise at age 19 for MK? How did her daughter Tsolo prevent her from suicide in prison and what did she do rather than drown


15. Jeremy Cronin and Johan Steinberg recreate the story of the executions of prisoners In the Pretoria Central Prison. How does the poetry of Ronnie Kasril, a white,

Jewish MK commander testify to this description of the death of Vuyisile Mini?

“The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near It

was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again

the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards.

And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in

his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he

spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. And then it was Khayinga`s turn, followed by Mkaba,

as they too defied all prison rules to shout out their valedictions. Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining

ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant

depths of the condemned section.”

16. The Toui-toyi song and dance came to South Africa from comrades who had fought and trained in Zimbabwe’s own war of independence (1965-1985). Mandile Magengefele,

Manala MaNazini, Vincent Vena and retired national riot police commander General Adrian de la Rosa agree on it’s effect on the white soldiers. What was it?

17. Where did Hugh Masekela’s song “Bring Back Nelson Mandela” originate?

18. After 27 years in prison what did Nelson Mandela do at the stadium reception for his release?

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