Ten things about national anthems

South Africa's national anthem is the only one in the world to contain stanzas in five different languages. (M&G)

South Africa's national anthem is the only one in the world to contain stanzas in five different languages. (M&G)

1. A proposal at the Cosatu conference last week, though it was soon dropped, was to revise South Africa's national anthem so that it is only Enoch Sontonga's hymn Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika (God Bless Africa) and not that hymn merged with the old apartheid anthem, Die Stem, which was written by the poet CJ Langenhoven and adapted later, as well as being translated, into English as The Call of South Africa.

2.  Such a simplification might have helped reggae singer Ras Dlamini, who famously mangled the anthem before a French-South Africa rugby match in Toulouse, France, in 2009. He had difficulty with the tune as well as the words, however.

3.
Just Jinger singer Ard Matthews was also accused of mutilating the anthem at the Springbok 2011 World Cup team announcement. He certainly had problems with the words that are not in English, apologising mid-song, but improved when he reached Die Stem.

4. Last year, at a Texas Super Bowl game, American pop star Christina Aguilera got the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner wrong, despite her claim that "I have been performing the anthem since I was seven years old".

5. Composer Igor Stravinsky created a new arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner for orchestral performance. It was played once, as part of a concert in Boston, Massachussetts, and Stravinsky was about to conduct it for the second time when the police arrived to inform him that under Massachussetts law no "tampering" with the anthem was allowed. The story that he was arrested for this crime is untrue.

6. South Africa's national anthem is the only one in the world to contain stanzas in five different languages. New Zealand's has two and Switzerland's has four.

7. The first tune to be officially declared a national anthem was Spain's Marcha Real (Royal March), declared so in 1770. It was originally a military marching tune, to be played on fifes or trumpets, and had no official lyrics until the reign of King Alfonso XII (1886-1931). The lyrics were replaced by new ­lyrics commissioned by Generalissimo Francisco Franco during his dictatorship, then dropped after he died. Since 1978 it has been played without words.

8. The national anthem of Burkina Faso, One Single Night, was composed by liberation leader Thomas Sankara himself.

9. The Egyptian anthem is called Bilady, Bilady, Bilady (My Country, My Country, My Country), and is based on a speech by late-1800s nationalist Mustafa Kemal Pasha, in which he made the famous statement that "If I wasn't an Egyptian, I would have wished to be an Egyptian."

10. The shortest national anthem is either Japan's (four lines) or Uganda's (eight bars). The longest is Greece's, with 158 verses. Not all of them, however, are usually sung.