Singing Freedom: Music and the struggle against apartheid

  • Posted: Mar 25, 2014






Iziko Slave Lodge until the end of April 2017

Iziko Museums of South Africa is celebrating 20 years of democracy, with the exhibition ‘Singing Freedom: Music and the struggle against apartheid.’ Music played a vital role during the struggle against apartheid. The melodies, carried in the hearts of people, served as calls to action, inspired, encouraged, and motivated. The freedom songs provide a window into the history of the organisations, events and individuals that were part of the liberation struggle.

The exhibition demonstrates how events such as the 1952 Defiance Campaign, the Sharpeville Massacre and the Soweto Uprisings were accompanied by, and often also memorialized, through song. A host of stories are encompassed within the broader narrative of freedom songs. Oral history interviews, conducted by the curators with a range of former activists and with musicians, provide an opportunity to hear the testimonies and anecdotes of those who were intimately involved in some of the events and activities explored in the exhibition.

Singing Freedom gives visitors an opportunity to explore some of the freedom songs and music that accompanied South Africa’s journey towards democracy. “The road to democracy was littered with challenges and sacrifice. The struggle against apartheid is a significant achievement in the history of our people as demonstrated through this exhibition. No amount of silencing the masses repressed the multiple ways in which they aired their plight. Through song and music their circumstances were scored. Museums play a key role in development through education and democratisation, while also serving as witnesses of the past; and are guardians of humanity’s treasures for future generations of not only this country, but the world. The creation of this exhibition demonstrates how museums are relevant and inclusive places where people can share and explore our collective heritage and historic landscape through creative and poignant acts that challenged the Apartheid State,” says Rooksana Omar, CEO, Iziko.

Singing Freedom showcases the stories of the early composers such as Enoch Sontonga who first composed the hymn Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, and the story of Vuyisile Mini, trade unionist and ANC member who composed some of the popular freedom songs and went to the gallows defiantly singing a freedom song in 1964.  The exhibition also focuses on some of the musicians and bands from different musical genres who used their music as a voice against oppression.

Miriam Makeba’s album with Harry Belafonte – An evening with Belafonte and Makeba, for example, was mentioned by several people, during the ‘Singing Freedom’ project’s oral history interviews, as having played an important role in introducing them to freedom songs.  Robbie Jansen and Basil Coetzee transformed Mannenberg into an anthem of the United Democratic Front in the Western Cape. Black Noise and Prophets of da City, two of the earliest hip–hop groups to emerge in South Africa, also added their voices to the call for an end to apartheid.

It is poignantly appropriate that the Iziko Slave Lodge, a site associated with the brutally oppressive system of slavery, hosts Signing Freedom, an exhibition that celebrates through music the undying yearning for freedom that characterized the resistance against apartheid.

Singing Freedom is curated by Paul Tichmann and Shanaaz Galant of the Iziko Social History Collections Department and will be on display at the Iziko Slave Lodge from 21 March 2014 until the end of April 2017.


Issued by: Melody Kleinsmith
Communications Coordinator: Institutional Advancement, Iziko Museums of South Africa
Telephone +27 (0) 21 481 3861                                   Facsimile +27 (0) 21 461 9620
Cell 073 107 4955                                                              E-mail

On behalf of:     Office of the CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa

Notes to editor:

About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)

Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at, join our online community on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions. 

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