What were you doing, assuming you are old enough, 20 years ago today? For those of us of a certain age and political persuasion, 11 February 1990 was one of those days that will remain forever engraved on the memory. After 27 years in captivity, Nelson Mandela was finally freed from his apartheid prison cell and so began one of the most remarkable – and peaceful – overthrows of oppression in human history.
The newsreels from that time still have the power to bring tears to my eyes, as does the song that – more than any other – epitomised the worldwide campaign for his release: ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by Special AKA (the Specials, who are now performing again, though sadly still without Jerry Dammers, the song’s composer and the band’s inspiration). You can revisit it in all its power and righteous glory, with dancing to die for, in this video.
It’s worth recalling that only three years previously the Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher led a party that preferred apartheid to those fighting for equal rights. ‘The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation ... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud cuckoo land,’ she said in 1987.
The shirt (pictured) is Philosophy Football’s anniversary celebration of the cause, available here in aid of Action for South Africa, the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement
This interview, with ITN's Brian Widlake on 21 May 1961, is also worth revisiting. It is believed to be the first filmed interview with Mandela.