The Special A.K.A.: “Free Nelson Mandela”

Posted: December 6, 2013 in THE CLASH of Cover Tunes
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The world lost a great one today …

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013)

In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.

In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.

In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.

* Above extracted from (A&E Television Networks, LLC)

During a radio interview in 1985 President Ronald Reagan offered this stupefying, ridiculous defense of apartheid in South Africa: “They have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country — the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated — that has all been eliminated.” Ron, never ever stray from the script … As former President Jimmy Carter once aptly observed: “President Reagan doesn’t always check the facts before he makes statements, and the press accepts this as kind of amusing.”

 On a lighter note Billy Bragg had a great quote regarding Nelson Mandela. During one of his concerts I attended in the 1980’s someone, probably/hopefully in jest, yelled “Free Bird!” Without missing a beat Bragg smiled and said, “You always know you’re in the States when, invariably, someone yells ‘Free Bird’ … everywhere else in the world that I play people yell ‘Free Mandela’”.

A Few of My Favorite Nelson Mandela Quotes

 “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

“I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days.”

“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” (What a classic!)

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

“Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”


“Free Nelson Mandela” – The Special A.K.A.

I was surprised and discouraged that this great song was never formerly covered by any musician or band that I could find. However, there are some great versions from special events. Here is the best of what I could find:

Studio Rehearsal (1984):

Free Nelson Mandela was apparently written to be played live on a television show. Here is a rehearsal for the show:


Studio Release (1984):


Live on the Tube (1984):

 Along with The Special A.K.A this version features Elvis Costello, Dave Wakeling, Dick Cuthell, Ranking Roger and others … This is simply a phenomenal version!


Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, London, 1988:

Jerry Dammers & Friends


Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday Concert Celebration at Hyde Park, London, 2008:

Jivan Gasparyan, Razorlight, Into the Hoods, Sipho Mabuse, Soweto Gospel Choir, Leona Lewis, Zucchero, Susannah Owiyo and D’Gary, Sugababes, Will Smith, Annie Lennox, Agape choir, Emmanuel Jal, Jamelia, Loyiso, Vusi Mahlasela, Johnny Clegg, Joan Baez, Eddy Grant, Kurt Darren, Simple Minds, Brian May and Andrea Corr, Amy Winehouse, 9ice, Bebe Cool, Josh Groban, Amaral, Queen + Paul Rodgers, Jerry Dammers and at least 17 representatives from each country in the world.

Geez Louise, is there any reason I wasn’t invited on stage?!!? I mean, damn, my voice would have surely been drowned out by the couple of hundred other revelers up there.

Lamentably, for some faulty reason, Amy Winehouse was given the lead role on the song and, in my opinion, performed abysmally. It is a testament to the greatness of the song and other musicians that not even Amy’s lackluster lead vocals could keep this anthem from soaring. Of course, by this show Nelson Mandela had finally been freed, which provided a real reason for celebration.

  1. Arnie Plotnick says:

    Well done, Sir Winston. A fitting tribute you’ve created here, in both words and music.

  2. Pete Black says:

    Just listened to the Live On The Tube version and it was a very impressive performance.

  3. […] The Special A.K.A.: “Free Nelson Mandela” ( On a lighter note Billy Bragg had a great quote regarding Nelson Mandela. During one of his concerts I attended in the 1980’s someone, probably/hopefully in jest, yelled “Free Bird!” Without missing a beat Bragg smiled and said, “You always know you’re in the States when, invariably, someone yells ‘Free Bird’ … everywhere else in the world that I play people yell ‘Free Mandela’”. […]

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