South Africans search for a song they can sing together

A CALLER to Radio Zulu yesterday morning said that South Africa's new flag, the design of which has become a subject of hot national debate, should evoke the pride the Union Jack does - or at least did - among the British.

In 1879, the caller recalled, the Zulus crushed the British at the Battle of Isandhlwana. The conquering Zulu army, not content with disembowelling the 800 dead redcoats, made off with their flag. It was the zeal to recover the flag, the caller explained, that spurred the British to heap great slaughter on the Zulu nation and eventually win the war.

Yesterday, 'national symbols' was on the agenda of the multi-party Negotiating Council. It studied submissions by a special commission appointed to choose a new flag and national anthem. The debate turned out to be symbolic of the council's broader task of considering peace-keeping, a new constitution and elections, and of its difficulties.

Of 7,000 flag designs entered by the public to the Symbols Commission, the one selected for presentation to the council was predominantly green and gold with smatterings of red, white and blue conveyed in the form of small triangles. Described variously as 'a lavatory tile', 'wrapping paper' and plain 'awful', it was nevertheless an improvement on the skull and crossbones, coffin and 30 pieces of silver option proposed by one particularly embittered white entrant.

As for the anthem, the commission suggested that both the liberation movement's Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika (God bless Africa) and the Afrikaners' Die Stem (the Call) should be recognised for a five- year period. African National Congress (ANC) delegates at the council complained that Die Stem was 'a hymn to conquest and domination', right- wingers that Nkosi Sikelele was 'a song for terrorists'.

Three possible compromises were put forward: one to blend the two tunes, selecting the words according to their political correctness; another to play Nkosi Sikelele at black occasions, such as soccer matches, Die Stem at white occasions, such as rugby matches; and finally, to adopt a brand-new anthem composed by a certain Shalati Joseph Khosa containing the uplifting, if far from melodic, words, 'in one accord we shall sow the seed, the good seed of unity'.

Sniping from the sidelines, the Conservative Party, who withdrew from the Negotiating Council in July, said they would 'not stand to attention for a flag and anthem forced on us by aliens'. The leader of the like-minded Boerestaat Party, Robert van Tonder, suggested that the only solution would be to adopt a flag 'with white and black spots, which reflects the variety of colours in the country, with a Coca-Cola bottle in the middle to symbolise South Africa's new status as an American vassal state'.

The council concluded the day in traditional fashion. Unable to agree on anything, they referred the matter to the Planning Committee, otherwise known to veteran negotiators as 'the black hole'.