First performed by the Coventry-based band The Special AKA, "Free Nelson Mandela" was released in 1984 as a protest against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela who had by then spent 22 years in prison.
The composer Jerry Dammers, who played keyboard and wrote lyrics for the band, admitted he had known little of Mandela's situation until the previous year, and his song's success took him by surprise. Having imposed a ban on sporting engagements with South Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, and joined UN sanctions as a condemnation of the apartheid regime, Britain, under Margaret Thatcher, was pursuing a more moderate line in the early Eighties, mirroring US policy.
The song reached No 9 in the UK charts and was immensely popular in Africa, where it was played at ANC rallies. More recently, a version was performed at the finale of the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday tribute in London's Hyde Park, in June 2008. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, four years after his release from prison.
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