Invisible in prison, Mandela was kept in spotlight by music

Mon Dec 9, 2013 10:32am EST
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By Marius Bosch

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - For nearly three decades, very few people except prison guards and fellow inmates knew what Nelson Mandela looked like.

But his imprisonment and the fight against the apartheid government in South Africa was kept on the world stage by music - from ska and reggae songs to jazz - with one common message:

Free Nelson Mandela.

Now, after his death on Thursday at the age of 95, many of the songs that became a soundtrack to the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s are back on the airwaves, adding to the chorus of global tributes to the beloved statesman.

They are being played and replayed as South Africa commemorates its first black president with a memorial ceremony on Tuesday to be attended by a host of global leaders.

After his release from 27 years in apartheid jails in 1990, Mandela attended countless concerts held in his honor, and in later years musical events to promote his 46664 Aids charity - named after his old prisoner number.

"It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world and at peace with myself," Mandela said in 1999 after joining South African singer Johnny Clegg - the "White Zulu" - on stage in France.

He urged the French crowd to dance to Clegg's anti-apartheid song "Asimbonanga" ('We have not seen him' in Zulu) and gently swayed doing his trademark dance, dubbed the Madiba Shuffle. Madiba is Mandela's clan name.   Continued...

A street vendor sells portraits of Nelson Mandela on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where the former South African president resided when he lived in the township, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman