18 January 2019

South Africa: Why Soviet Troops Fought Nazi Forces to Boer War Tunes


It is often forgotten that the Anglo-Boer War was one of the great liberal and left-wing causes of the late 19th century. The first leader of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, saw the Afrikaners as stout peasant farmers, standing up to the might of British imperialism. Across the world, funds were raised for the Boer cause. Others went further, volunteering to make the hazardous journey to join the struggle against the British.

"The night is overthrown. The sun is rising. Forward, the Red Navy, forward, Soviet youth!"

The words are pure Soviet propaganda, but the tune they sang would be familiar to many South African. It was Sarie Marais.

The song was sung in desperate times -- the siege of the port of Sevastopol in (30 October 1941 - 4 July 1942). The 110,000 Soviet troops were defending their fortress on the tip of the Crimea against German, Romanian and Italian forces twice their number before, finally, the city fell.

Nor was this the only time Soviet or Russian soldiers sang about South Africa. During World War I a folk song was popular with Russian troops. The words of its first verse went like this:

Transvaal, Transvaal, my country,


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