It is a consensus that the song was originally composed by workers of the Ndebele ethnic group, located in the southern part of what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, as they traveled in uncovered wagons of the trains to and from the gold and coal mines.
Although there are different interpretations, in the Endebele language, shosholoza can mean ‘to move on.’
As with other anonymous work songs that adopt the call-and-response format, over the years, and depending on the collectives that sang them, the lyrics received multiple transformations.
Thus, the fragment where it expresses ‘you advance from those mountains on the train from South Africa’, the direction of travel could also be reversed, so that what was said was: ‘You flee from those mountains on the train from Rhodesia’.
It is said that even Nelson Mandela, during his 18 years of imprisonment on Robben Island, sang it with other inmates during the endless and monotonous hours of forced labor he endured.
Various testimonies affirm that he found in the musical piece the struggle against the segregationist apartheid regime comparable to the movement of an approaching train.
With the passage of time, the people of southern Africa changed its lyrics in countries and situations of all kinds, which turned a song of work -suffering- into a kind of solidarity anthem that is often used today during public events, such as sporting events.
Internationally, it was perhaps most popularized by the American troubadour Pete Seeger, who in 1963 included it, together with the Cuban Guantanamera, in the repertoire of his civil rights concert We Shall Overcome.
(Taken from Orbe)