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“Nelson Mandela”

Posted by purplemary54 on July 18, 2013

I had sort of been half planning this post for a couple of weeks now, in case it was needed for a memorial post.  But today is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday and Mandela Day in South Africa, and his health is improving somewhat.  And that makes me unspeakably happy.

I remember getting up very early, around 4 AM I think, to watch this on TV.  I was young and idealistic still, and ending Apartheid in South Africa was one of those political causes I could get behind, even though I had a fairly limited understanding of the issue.  I just knew that it was wrong to deny an entire race their legal and civil rights, and that it was wrong to imprison people for political reasons.  The way I figured it back then (and still do), that was enough reason to demand a revolution.

That’s pretty much what Nelson Mandela was convicted of, and what he spent 27 years in prison for.  Mandela’s imprisonment (and the death of fellow activist Steven Biko) was something many Rock and Pop musicians protested musically.  Apartheid was a popular cause among the musical set, which is probably how I learned of it in the first place.  There really aren’t many political leaders with popular songs written about them (it’s a little easier to get on the radio if you’re not calling out your president/prime minister/dictator by name).  It’s okay to be political, just don’t be too specific.  Of course, I’m really glad Jerry Dammers didn’t follow that unwritten rule.

The Special AKA was a revised version of the Specials, probably the best band to come out of the Ska movement of the late 70s-early 80s.  (It seems like a good place to note that this kind of revamping and renaming of bands was not unheard of among ska groups in England, such as The Beat/The English Beat becoming General Public.)  Ska, which was born in Jamaica, seemed to naturally lend itself to political music.  The steady but easygoing rhythm of the song belies the frustration and anger of the lyrics.  It’s entirely possible that someone who didn’t know who Mandela was wouldn’t immediately identify this as a protest song.  It just seems like another cheerful dance tune on the surface.  But the opening chorus lends an air of urgency to the song.  An urgency that only grew every year Mandela continued to be imprisoned.

I am still convinced that if Nelson Mandela had died in prison that South Africa would’ve descended into a bloody civil war.  Soweto was a horror, Biko’s murder by police a travesty.  But if the man who had become the symbol of the entire anti-Apartheid movement died before he could be freed, then there would’ve been no way to stop the uprising of blacks in that country.  It has been 23 years since I woke up at 4 AM to watch one of my heroes walk out of prison, and into a peaceful revolution.  The transition was not perfect; neither was Mandela’s presidency.  South Africa still has many problems.  But the man who means so much to them still lives in freedom today.


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