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Millions Worldwide Hear Rock Concert Honoring Anti-Apartheid Leader

June 11, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ Entertainers from the Bee Gees to Stevie Wonder denounced South African apartheid Saturday and honored jailed black leader Nelson Mandela in the biggest charity rock concert since the 1985 ″Live Aid″ extravaganza.

More than 70,000 fans jammed London’s Wembley Stadium for the nearly 11- hour-long concert in honor of Mandela’s 70th birthday on July 18.

They clapped, sang, danced and reveled in the sights and sounds of some of the world’s top pop musicians playing together until nearly 10 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT).

Steve Sager, 29, from Los Angeles said he timed his British vacation for the concert. ″Just being here to me is important. South Africa is an unjust situation all around. ... People just look at it and they turn away.″

For a finale, American opera singer Jessye Norman sang ″Amazing Grace″ a cappella and firecrackers shot into the sky in a circle around the stadium.

The finale was a change from the expected ″Nkosi Sikelele Africa″ (God Bless Africa). The national anthem of several African states is also regarded as the anthem of the outlawed African National Congress, the main guerrilla group fighting South Africa’s government.

There was no immediate explanation for the change.

Mandela, a leader of the ANC, was sentenced in 1964, along with seven others, to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to topple the government. Modeled on Live Aid’s ″global jukebox,″ which raised money for starving Africans, the anti-apartheid concert was beamed by radio and television to an estimated 750 million people in 60 countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, organizers said.

Britain’s Anti-Apartheid Movement, which organized the concert for Mandela, said half the expected $3.39 million in proceeds will go to anti-apartheid activities in Britain, and the rest will go to to seven children’s charities in southern Africa. Tickets cost $45.

The British Broadcasting Corp. said it was covering the concert not as a political but as a musical event, but it broadcast opening comments that attacked South Africa’s policy of apartheid, under which the nation’s black majority has no voice in national affairs.

Among the performers were George Michael, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, the Eurythmics, the Bee Gees, Wet Wet Wet, Dire Straits, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita and Sting.

Kicking off the show, singer-actor Harry Belafonte called Mandela ″the leader of South Africa’s oppressed black people″ and ″a symbol of the fight against the cruel and unjust system of apartheid.″

″We salute you, Nelson Mandela, and we want to see you and your fellow political prisoners freed 3/8″ Belafonte declared.

The mostly youthful crowd cheered and sang ″Happy Birthday.″ Some waved placards. One showed a black hand clasped with a white hand. Another showed a broken chain around a black man’s neck.

Anti-apartheid banners festooned the stage, which was dominated by a huge portrait of Mandela behind bars.

British idol Sting, the first performer, sang his hit ″Free, Free, Set Them Free,″ and the BBC’s commentator, Robert Denselow, referred to Mandela as ″a man politically imprisoned in South Africa.″

Sir Richard Attenborough, director of the anti-apartheid film ″Cry Freedom,″ called Mandela ″a man of unshakeable principle and extraordinary courage.″

Fans danced on their seats, climbed onto the shoulders of others, and at times the entire throng swayed to the sounds from the stage.

At one point, the crowd was asked to clasp hands in a Mandela tribute. They did so, creating a sea of upraised arms.

Scotland Yard said no violent incidents were reported during the concert, but the police headquarters said equipment belonging to singer Stevie Wonder was stolen. The theft delayed his appearance by three hours and reduced his performance from a scheduled 50 minutes to about 15.

The concert launched five weeks of rallies and celebrations in honor of Mandela.

South African Ambassador Rae Killen complained the BBC’s broadcast aids the ANC, which South Africa regards as a terrorist organization.

The BBC said it paid no money for the broadcasting rights and was covering the concert only because it was an ″outstanding international musical event.″

But right-wing British politicians complained that the publicly funded BBC was violating its duty of impartiality.

″The whole thing is a gigantic con trick to make people believe the ANC is a respectable organization and not a bunch of gangsters,″ said Conservative lawmaker John Carlisle.

ANC President Oliver Tambo was billed by organizers as the concert’s ″guest of honor.″

Richard Caborn, secretary the opposition Labor Party’s Anti-Apartheid Group, denied the charges of liberal bias leveled against the BBC.

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