MeadowLands (Strike Vilakazi)

“Meadowlands“ is one of the most enduring melodies in South African music. The song was composed by Strike Vilakazi in 1956 as a moving, emotional comment on the forced removal of Sophiatown’s residents to the newly created township of Meadowlands, which is now part of Soweto, The lyrics are sung in three different languages Zulu, Sesotho and tsotsitaal, the language of the streets- a mixture of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sesotho and Tswana. The lyrics are  ambiguous in their assessment, for or against, the government’s action. The white government thought the song supported their actions, but in reality it was a protest song about people refusing to go to Meadowlands.


Africans perceived the forced removals as a cleaning up of the country, erasing ‘black spots’ to make ‘the picture look white.’ Sophiatown was rebuilt as white suburb called Triomf, the Afrikaans word for triumph. The removals sparked the creation of a song called “Meadowlands”, in reference to the Meadowlands township to which many Sophiatown residents were forced relocate. The lyrics express the devastation of the evacuation: “we will move all night and day/to go stay in meadowlands/you’ll hear the white people saying/let’s go to meadowlands.”

Dolly Rathebe on the cover of Drum Magazine (1928-2004)

Dolly Rathebe on the cover of the July 1955 Drum Magazine (1928-2004)

“Meadowlands” has a swing melody, and is sung in African languages, which masked its indictment of the callousness of white racism. so that white government officials and politicians, unable to understand, at the time thought the song was cheerful.

Read an interesting article Michela Versbow about the forced removals and the role of music in the South African struggle HERE.

The song was made famous by African Jazz Pioneers with Dolly Rathebe

The Zulu or Sesotho verse roughly translates to:

Let‘s go, let‘s go ,let‘s go to Meadowlands
We‘ll work night and day, going straight to Meadowlands
Have you heard what the white people say?
Let‘s all go to Meadowlands…
Our beloved place

The tsotsitaal version translates to something else:

Have you heard what the tstotsis all say
We are not leaving; we‘re are staying right here
Staying here, staying here
Staying here in our beloved place

The ambiguity is enhanced further by mixing Sesotho with tsotsitaal

Utla a utlwa makgowa a re a re yeng eMeadowlands (Sesotho)
You will hear the whites saying let‘s go to Meadowlands
Meadowlands, Meadowlands,
ons daak nie ons pola hie (tsotsitaal)
We are not leaving, we are staying right here