Freeing Nelson Mandela - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Freeing Nelson Mandela

Freeing Nelson Mandela

By Eugene S. Robinson



Because for those who think that pop music can influence politics, here’s some mighty proof of concept.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Jerry Dammers might’ve been forgotten, despite his genius contribution to his group, the Specials, later known as the Specials A.K.A. This was a U.K. band born of Margaret Thatcher’s England and what led to the Brixton Riots, but that was decades ago, which might as well be eons in pop-culture time. But Dammers will forever be remembered for crafting his simply put and well-timed “Free Nelson Mandela,” the defining song of the movement.

For many, it was the moment when Mandela pierced our consciousness.

The world descends on Johannesburg, South Africa, today for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, now expanded to accommodate at least 200,000 people from ordinary citizens to celebrities and heads of state, kicking off a 10-day mourning period. It’s Dammers’s song that will come to mind for many people, in associations both large and small. Released in 1984, it is credited by some for mobilizing interest and activity around getting Mandela out of prison, where he was held for 27 years. Ironically Thatcher was just one conservative (including then-Republican congressman Dick Cheney) who considered him a terrorist.

But the song, with its ska-influenced beat, is infectious — it  wiggles into your brain and stays there. Days after the great man’s passing, it’s like one of those “where were you” moments of remembrance. For many, it was the moment when Mandela pierced our consciousness.

Today we remember the man who brought an end to white-minority rule in South Africa by becoming its first black president in 1994. Right here.

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