This is a protest song and it is traditionally sung at funerals. It was important during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Senzenina means “What have we done” with the implication “what did we do to deserve this?” (Also spelled “senzeni na”.)
Here you can see the original lyrics, with an English translation and a wonderful mp3 recording that we just received by Élodie Chebat.
Sono sethu ubumnyama
Sono sethu yinyaniso
Mayibuye i Africa.
What Have We Done?
What have we done?
Our sin is that we are black
Our sin is the truth
They are killing us
Let Africa return.
We found that this song is considered to be in both the Zulu and Xhosa languages. Trying to figure out which language it was in, I looked up the words to this song, and found some of them in a Zulu dictionary and some in a Xhosa dictionary. On further research I found in the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The Zulu and Xhosa languages are similar enough to be considered dialects of one language, but speakers of Zulu and Xhosa consider them to be separate languages.” (FYI They are both Southeastern Bantu languages.)
Many thanks to Élodie Chebat for contributing and singing this beautiful song!
This article was posted on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 4:00 pm and is filed under African Children's Songs, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, Folk Songs, Languages, Mama Lisa, MP3's, Recordings of Songs, Senzenina, South Africa, Traditional Songs, Xhosa, Zimbabwe, Zulu. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
24 Responses to “Senzenina – A Zulu Protest Song and Funeral Song”
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June 2nd, 2009 at 6:10 pm
This beautiful song is also featured (at a funeral) in the movie “The Power of One.”
July 24th, 2009 at 6:40 pm
Também no filme Sombras do Passado (com Hilary Swank) ela aparece como áudio incidental durante a exumação dos ossos de um negro assassinado pela polícia do apartheid.
July 24th, 2009 at 7:09 pm
This song also appears as incidental sound in the movie Shadows of the Past (for star Hilary Swank) during exhumation of the skeleton of a member of the ANC killed by the apartheid police.
January 9th, 2010 at 6:41 am
I was taught this song in my Primary School choir when I was 12yrs old. Our teacher had been to Kenya and the song touched him so much he taught us the song when he returned. Now at 25yrs old I’m singing it to my baby to get him to sleep! I thought I’d best look up the meaning of the song and I’m so glad I did…I had no idea how meaningful it really was. Thank you for the full lyrics and translation.
April 9th, 2010 at 8:06 am
Thanks. I have been singing this song for over 35 years and never really new the lyrics except for Senzenina. Understanding the meaning behind the lyrics makes even a bigger impact on me. I am gong to use the song in a play and hopefully give the full impact it has had on me onto my audience. Amandla!
June 19th, 2010 at 5:21 pm
It is also the opening song for “In my country (Country of my skull)”, a 2004 movie featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche.
June 30th, 2010 at 9:54 am
Thank for this post! i’m thirtytwo and just discovered african music listening to the record “an evening with Bellafonte and Makeba”. Actually i’m looking for lyrics meaning of a song called “Kwazulu – In the land of zulus”. Could maybe someone please help me?
October 31st, 2011 at 3:57 pm
[…] I read the print on the wall, I hear the harmonised voices of the familiar “Senzenina” from within the gallery. Goldblatt is purposeful about stepping outside of the immediacy of […]
January 18th, 2012 at 12:40 pm
WE USE TO SING THIS IN ANGLICAN SERVICES IN THE 70’S AND 80’S, AND THE SINGING WAS FILLED WITH THE DEEP LONGING FOR THE TIME WHEN WE WILL BE FREE.
June 30th, 2012 at 6:01 pm
essa musica e linda escutei ela num filme ‘A coragem de um jovem” e ouço somente pela internet gostaria de obter o cd obrigadou por taduzir
Rough Translation of comment:
This song is beautiful and is heard in the beautiful movie “A coragem de um jovem” and heard only through the internet – I would get the cd by obrigadou taduzir.
August 20th, 2012 at 11:46 am
I love this track i just lent it when i watched the movie,now i know what the composer felt when they wrote these words.
May 19th, 2013 at 6:57 pm
I am not black but the song sooths me. I know this is a personal decision, and I have no connection to the apparatuses. I watch the Power of one” when I am feeling in-empowered…for strength for the impact as one. Sometimes I put the song on repeat when meditating. Would, in your opinion, fly in the face of appartite since I am a white man. It would just b yor opinion- I relate it is similar to the white man coming to America… Killing the Nates that resided here taking their land, a 1% population ( the white man) being so districtive of the land and its natives.
July 14th, 2013 at 5:13 pm
This SONG is what the Church of God ( JESUS CHRIST ) needs to start to groan out to God Almighty in order to ” HURRY ” the end times REVIVAL of God in this world peroid – same spiritual concept.
May 17th, 2014 at 7:45 pm
This song brings back all the memories, it was so sad, we wer once treated like we wer not human, for what really??. It might have passed, but we will for ever know what happened. For generations and generations. I’ll be honest, some of us, MAJORITY, we remained quiet, we have not done wat we call forgive and forget. Impossible..asibulele amabhunu..no offence, no hate, just commenting.
July 5th, 2014 at 10:11 pm
This song brings back all the energy, power and courage in me when I loose it all, I meditate upon it!
October 9th, 2015 at 12:47 pm
with tears am listening to this song but don’t know what to do or say. Not knowing the meaning until i saw this lyrics and i remember my late uncles ……………… i miss them so so so much
May 18th, 2016 at 8:53 pm
I just so love this song that I can’t stop listening to it
I am a choir music director of my choir and I would love to teach it to my choir
Please when I listen to the sound and I look at the lyrics, I really don’t get the next words after “senzenina”
Its like the words on the lyrics ain’t what is sung
Please I need help
May 18th, 2016 at 10:33 pm
@Alang – The words and lines are repeated over and over again… especially “senzenina”. Sometimes she sings “sen…” then “senzenina”
Does that help?
April 1st, 2017 at 11:58 am
Knowing the context of the song it would be inappropriate to use it as a common choir item. It has deep and painful implications for black South Africans
May 2nd, 2017 at 2:37 pm
I heard it in the movie mad buddies, but the lyrics are different , at least at their translation.
January 13th, 2019 at 4:04 am
@Steven – if the meaning is understood and the song sung with the right intent, I think it is entirely appropriate to use as a choir item. Music is a powerful and beautiful to express empathy and tell stories that should not be forgotten. Lest we forget.
February 13th, 2019 at 9:40 pm
What have we done this song makes me cry every day 💔 ooh only God knows how we feel but we still strong no matter what 🙏
September 23rd, 2019 at 10:01 pm
Nice master peace i am Kenyan but i love listening to Senzeni na? It brought us healing when we see Xenophobia attacks from our native brothers in South Africa. “We are as black as our sins” we keep on forgetting whom we are and where we come from but this song is a constant reminder.
February 4th, 2020 at 10:55 pm
When I saw the Translation into English, I remembered what LOUIS ARMSTRONG sang: WHAT did I do to Be so Black and Blue?