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Mandela Day Concert (1988)

The Mandela Day Concert staged on 11 June 1988 at London’s Wembley Stadium was organised by Special AKA main man Jerry Dammers and Britain’s Artists Against Apartheid.

The 70th birthday tribute to imprisoned anti-apartheid African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela proved a timely antidote to the South African regime’s attempts to typecast Mandela as a terrorist.

With a live audience of 72,000 and more than 600 million television viewers in 67 countries, it gave a global all-star cast of musicians, actors and comedians, including Stevie Wonder, Sting, George Michael, Eurythmics, Al Green, Meat Loaf, Peter Gabriel, Harry Belafonte, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Connolly, and more the unprecedented opportunity to mobilise international public opinion on apartheid.

Conservative critics preferred to underscore apolitical highlights such as Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton‘s revamp of Dire Straits‘ Sultans of Swing.

Nonetheless, whether it was acoustic singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman‘s star-making performance of Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution, or Jerry Dammers‘ emotional rendition of his classic protest song Free Nelson Mandela with Simple Minds, the event proved a major political coup.

Not only did the Mandela Day Concert save the British Anti-Apartheid Movement from bankruptcy and help double their membership but – partly as a consequence of the spotlight shone on Mandela, his cause, and the racist South African political system – 18 months afterwards, the man in whose honour it was staged, was finally free to lead his country to democracy.