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Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela!

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at the Rivonia trial, April 20, 1964.

Wembley Stadium in London is the home of British football. On the 14th of June this year, 72 000 people squeezed into this famous stadium.

But they were not there to watch football — and for once the fans were all on the same side and shouting for the same thing.

They were there to wish the most famous prisoner in the world a happy 70th birthday — and to demand that he be freed.

The face of the jailed ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, was everywhere — on flags, badges, caps and the “Freedom at 70′ T-shirts. Behind the stage stood a huge picture of Nelson and Winnie Mandela on their wedding day.

As the hands of the clock slowly ticked to 12.15 in the afternoon, British funnyman Lenny Henry came onto the stage and shouted: “Ten seconds to go! Five, four, three, two, one! We have 60 countries all over the world watching us. Let us give them a big welcome.”

The crowd roared. Television cameras were switched on. – and over one billion people “plugged into” the concert.


British superstar Sting came on first and nearly lifted the crowd right out of the stadium with his beautiful voice and talking guitar.

His first song, ‘Set Them Free’, has a simple message – that one day all political prisoners will be free. It touched the hearts of the people at the festival. It was also a great tribute to Nelson Mandela and all the others who are in prison. He followed with another hit from his latest album. In the soulful song called They Dance Alone’ he sings about the suffering of the people of Chile, whose friends and loved ones were killed by the death squads of Pinochet.

Sir Richard Attenborough, the man who made “Cry Freedom”, a film about Steve Biko, came onto the stage and introduced a group called Arekopaneng – a group of “homeboys” led by former Sophiatown trombone king Jonas Gwangwa. They left the audience crying for more with their Kofifi type African jazz and a song from Cry Freedom.


Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC, could be seen jiving in his grey suit as reggae star Maxi Priest brought the crowds to their feet with his song called ‘Free Nelson Mandela”.

Father Trevor Huddlestone, the beloved priest who served the people of Sophiatown in the 1950’s, was also there to celebrate his long-time friend’s birthday. The well known Anti-Apartheid Movement leader had a double reason to be happy. It was also his birthday. He turned 75.

“Is the world ready to set Nelson Mandela free?” shouted Maxi Priest before he belted out another reggae tune. The crowd clasped their hands in the air and jived to the music until the stadium felt like it was going to fall apart.

The group Simple Minds joined singer Peter Gabriel in his touching song about Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader who died in prison in 1977. Tens of thousands of fists were raised as people shouted “Amandla!”

Little Steven made a short speech before singing his anti-apartheid song, ‘Aint gonna play Sun City’. “We the people demand the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela”, he shouted to the crowd, who nodded in agreement.

American actress Whoopi Goldberg, who always makes people laugh in her films, was in a serious mood. The crowd never saw the clown in her as she asked them to shout “How long?” five times. The crowd answered her call and the stadium shook.


Famous film actor Richard Gere called on the people to help bring about change in South Africa. “Is it not unbelievable that we are all here to pay tribute to a man that none of us have ever met? Unlike the people of South Africa we have the vote. Let us use that power to force governments all over the world to push for change in South Africa,” he said.

The Eurythmics had the crowd singing along with their song “Hey Mandela!” At one point Annie Lennox, the Eurythmics lead singer, left the stage to take a rest.

It was later learned that her doctors had told her not to sing in the festival because she is four months pregnant — but she came to add her voice to the thousands of others calling for Mandela’s release.

“God smiles on you Nelson Mandela!” shouted Natalie Cole, the daughter of American blues singer, Nat King Cole. Jonathan Butler, the Cape Town born guitar player and singer who has made his name overseas, sang three songs with the husky-voiced Joe Cocker. And of course, the great Miriam Makeba was there to pay her respects to her leader and one-time fan. The first and last time she saw Mandela was when she sang for the Manhattan Brothers back in the 1950’s.

Afterwards, Mandela went up to her and thanked her for her singing. Makeba was joined on stage by South Africa’s other exiled musical giant, Hugh Masekela. Together they sang a tribute to their hero. They sang the old favourite, “Stimela” — and another song that was just right for the moment — “Bring Him Back”.

Stevie Wonder turned out to be the “surprise guest” at the concert. He was flown in from the United States as a special birthday present for Mandela. His show started late as one of his instruments was stolen from beside the stage.


Amampondo wowed the crowd with their fresh brand of African music. Simon Mahlathini Nkabinde and his backing group, Amahotella Queens, had the crowds clapping with their mbaqanga music and township jive. Reggae came back to Africa as African musicians Salif Keita and Youssou N’dour played together with Jamaican reggae kings, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Sly and Robbie used to play for Bob Marley and the Wailers. Whitney Houston, the most talked- about female musician, was just magic to watch. She looked as good as ever.

It was close to midnight when Dire Straits took the stage to close the show. The group came out of retirement to play at the concert. After they had played their last sweet note, the crowd left the stadium buzzing like a swarm of happy bees.

They took with them more than memories of a day full of great music. They went home with the name of Nelson Mandela on their lips and his struggle deep in their hearts.

The Nelson Mandela birthday festival, which lasted for 12 hours, was the music concert of the year. It was a day of superstars — but the brightest and greatest star of all was the one who could not be there — Nelson Mandela himself.

* The Mandela birthday concert in London took place on June 14. This was a few weeks before his birthday. Nelson Mandela turned 70 on July 18, 1988.

NEW WORDS soulful — with deep feeling death squads — groups that go around murdering people introduce — to make somebody or something known to others audience — the people watching a concert or a show beloved — deeply loved unconditional release — to be freed with no conditions.

NEWS FLASH This space was meant to have been for an advert for a booklet that we proudly produced as a tribute to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The booklet is called: “The Historic Speech of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at the Rivonia Trial.”

However, on the day this magazine went to the printer, the security police came to our offices and seized the booklets. They said they were acting under the new media emergency regulations that came out in June.

At the moment we are preparing a court action to challenge the seizure. We will report on the outcome of our court application in the next magazine. For those of you who have sent us R2 for the booklet, we ask you please to be patient. If our court application is not successful, we will return your money.

We would just like to point out that although the booklet was seized, it is not illegal. If you have a copy of the booklet or the speech do not worry — you are not breaking the law.

Finally, we just want to say that the government has kept Nelson Mandela in prison for 26 years already. They could keep him for another 26 years and seize his speech time and again. But it would not help them. The spirit of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela will never die!


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