JOHANNESBURG, June 4, 2010 (AFP) - Before every South African football match, fans and players put their hands on their chest and with serious faces belt out the national anthem. But mid-song some keep quiet or fumble the words.
Recent picture of South African football fans singing the national Anthem during the friendly match between South Africa vs Colombia at Soccer City Stadium in Soweto on May 27,2010. AFP photo
The South African national anthem includes verses in five of the country's 11 official languages, a tongue twister which has prompted the culture ministry to devise ways of encouraging everyone to sing the whole song.
Lerato Matshikiza, 25, from Johannesburg said that she only sings the Xhosa, Zulu and English parts of the anthem, humming through the Sotho and Afrikaans lines.
But she decided to learn all the lyrics after she attended a church function with American priests in December.
"It was so embarrassing. When we sang the national anthem, everyone sang on a high note at the beginning, but when it came to the Afrikaans bit no one knew the lyrics. So we kinda made up the words and the song picked up again on the English part."
Themba Mabaso, of the national culture department, said come the June 11 opening World Cup game between Bafana Bafana and Mexico, South Africans will sing all the lyrics.
"In our research, we found people didn't sing the lyrics because they were in a language they did not understand. So we designed literature that would unpack the content and meaning of the song in all languages," he said.
The booklets simplify the spelling of the words to make them easier to pronounce, he said.
The department also teamed with community organisations around the country to hold rehearsal sessions to teach the song, which is available as a CD or MP3 file, or even a cell phone ringtone, so people can practise at home.
Although many South Africans can't sing the national anthem, reggae singer Ras Dumisani drew national outrage with his off-key rendition before a rugby match in France last year.
South Africans were also up in arms when the anthem was cut to two verses at the opening match of last year's FIFA Confederations Cup. No explanation was ever given for the cut.
Under white-minority rule, which ended in 1994, the official anthem was "Die Stem" (The Voice of South Africa).
Most blacks sang "Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika" (God Bless Africa) at anti-apartheid rallies as a symbol of independence and resistance to white rule.
The two anthems were merged into one in 1997 in a sign of unity.
But last year Afro-pop singer Thandiswa Mazawi refused to sing the Afrikaans verses at a youth day function, saying on social networking site Facebook that she hated the anthem.
"How can it be that the anthem and prayer for Africa is now so blatantly joined with the anthem which systematically raped this land and its people of all its value and pride?"
Many South Africans simply don't know the verses that aren't in their own language.
Despite the end of forced segregation, South African sport remains divided along colour lines, with football seen as a black sport and rugby for whites.
Football players are often silent on the Afrikaans lyrics, while rugby players skip the first three verses in African languages.
Mabaso hopes the anthem will emerge as a unifying force, like during the 1995 rugby World Cup when the winning team of mostly white Afrikaakners attended music lessons to learn the Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho lyrics.
"The anthem is meant to unite the country and showcase South Africa's identity. Of all the national symbols we found, the national anthem to be the one people emotionally connected to," Mabaso said.
"We are really fortunate to be given a second chance by hosting the World Cup, so we can cement our nationalism and identity," he said.