Every generation is lucky enough to experience an incredible leader – a shining star who can surpass our human potential and make a real difference in the world. Nelson Mandela is without a doubt that legend of our time, and it’s no surprise that his biography has already been brought to the big screen. On January 3rd, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is released in the UK. Ironically, Mandela died the same day as the UK premier for the movie, which was attended by Kate Middleton and Prince William.
Mandela’s biography had an unlikely start, beginning in 1974, when Nelson Mandela began to write secretly at night while imprisoned on South Africa’s Robben Island. Fellow political prisoners, Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu, reviewed each page, and another prisoner condensed Mandela’s handwriting into microscopic shorthand. It was Sathyandranath Ragunanan ‘Mac’ Maharaj, a member of the South African Communist Party and affiliate of the ANC, who smuggled the manuscript out on his release in 1976. He had hidden the transcripts in the bindings of his notebooks.
While the arts now pay tribute to an international hero, music has also been instrumental in pressing for Mandela’s release. Free Nelson Mandela” was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom for The Special AKA in 1984, instantly becoming the unofficial anthem for the international anti-apartheid movement. The composer, Jerry Dammers actually knew little about Mandela before he attended a 1983 anti-apartheid concert in London, where found the inspiration for the song. With lyrics that drew attention to Mandela’s struggle and an upbeat sound, the song climbed the charts, spreading the word to an international audience and educating the public about Mandela, who Thatcher viewed as a terrorist at the time.
Four years later, in 1988, Dammers and the band Simple Minds helped organise the Mandela 70th Birthday Concert at Wembley Stadium. Watched by a global audience of 600 million, this concert is credited with hardening international opposition to the apartheid regime. At this point, the South African government was secretly holding meetings with Mandela, which culminated in his release in 1990. Four years later, he became the republic’s first black president. In 1996 Mandela speaking to both of London’s Houses of Parliament said: “We take this opportunity once more to pay tribute to the millions of Britons who, through the years, stood up to say: No to apartheid!”
The power of film and music, although sometimes under-rated, will thankfully play a role in keeping Nelson Mandela’s inspiration alive for generations to come.