The Specials, South Africa and the legend of 'Nelson Mandela'
December 5th marked the two-year anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela and today we honor that event with one of the more unique political songs on the '80s with the Special AKA and Free Nelson Mandela (known sometimes as simply Nelson Mandela.)
In 1948 South Africa enacted Apartheid that legally separated whites and blacks. As a young lawyer, Nelson Mandela made it his life's work to fight Apartheid and in 1962 he was jailed and sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to overthrow the government. In the '80s, with the help of Amnesty International and celebrity attention, the heat to end Apartheid and release Mandela was reaching a crescendo and was highlighted to the MTV-generation with the release of songs like Sun City and Free Nelson Mandela. All the lobbying efforts in the '80s resulted in the release of Mandela on Feb. 11, 1990. In 1994, Mandela would become the first black leader of South Africa when he was elected was president and served until 1999.
The Specials (also known as Special AKA) were an English ska band that had big hits in the U.K. like Ghost Town and A Message To You, Rudy and in 1983, keyboardist Jerry Dammers attended a London Anti-Apartheid rally that inspired a call to action and he penned the upbeat and happy Free Nelson Mandela. The song was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and hit number one in New Zealand in 1984. It did not chart in America, but it was shown just enough on MTV to kindle interest in world events to teens in America.
The song lives on as in 1984, Wadham University in Oxford, England played Free Nelson Mandela to end their school dance - a tradition that continues on today. When Mandela died two years, the song briefly charted again in the U.K.