Coventry & Warwickshire

Mandela death: The Specials' Jerry Dammers calls for action

Jerry Dammers on Newsnight
Image caption Jerry Dammers said there was little awareness of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment before his song

The writer of the 1984 hit protest song Free Nelson Mandela has called for action in memory of the former South African president.

Jerry Dammers said people should "actually listen to what he said and act on it".

The Specials keyboard player, who met Mr Mandela twice, repeated the statesman's description of people "trapped in the prison of poverty" and said it was "time to set them free".

Mr Mandela died aged 95 on Thursday.

'Couldn't be supported'

When Dammers wrote Free Nelson Mandela with Coventry-based 2 Tone band The Special AKA (formerly the Specials), the anti-apartheid campaigner had been in prison for more than two decades and it would be another six years before he was released.

The single originally reached number nine in the UK charts and number one in New Zealand but was played around the world.

Dammers said he was inspired by Mr Mandela's statement that "any attempt to get rid of apartheid was welcome" and believed "every little bit helps".

Image caption Jerry Dammers (second left) was a founding member of The Specials, who later became The Special AKA

In a growing wave of worldwide awareness about apartheid, a Free Nelson Mandela concert was held at Wembley Stadium in 1988, two years before Mr Mandela's release from prison in South Africa.

Alan Yentob, the BBC's Creative Director, said: "The catalyst for the '88 concert was Jerry's song... the Thatcher government was still in power and there was a sense that South Africa, the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement couldn't be supported in quite that way."

'Inspired us'

After his release, Mr Mandela met Dammers twice on his visits to the UK and the musician said he was "incredibly good natured".

Speaking at a birthday concert in 2008, Mr Mandela said: "Many years ago there was a historic concert which called for our freedom. Your voices carried across the water and inspired us in our prison cells far away."

Image caption Nelson Mandela was 46 when he was sent to prison

The Special AKA song was used at the climax for the 2008 gig, performed by Dammers, Amy Winehouse and others.

After Mr Mandela's death, Dammers said he wanted to see politicians reconsider his call to address poverty through trade justice, the third world debt crisis and international aid.

He said it was time to remember Mr Mandela's work and "try and make sure racism of any kind never comes to power again".

On Twitter fans have thanked Dammers for his musical contribution to Mr Mandela's life.

Cath Aubergine said through Free Nelson Mandela she "learnt about apartheid and the struggle for human rights".

Lloyd David wrote that it was "a great piece of political art" and William Regal said: "A lot of British people of my age would not have know of the terrible treatment of Nelson Mandela if not for Jerry Dammers and The Specials."

Some tweets have called for Free Nelson Mandela to be re-released in an attempt to make it Christmas number one in the UK charts.

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