Mandela, R.E.M. Celebrate South African Democracy
London's historic Trafalgar Square was transformed last night (April 29) for a free concert to celebrate South Africa's seventh year as a democracy. The 30,000 strong crowd was treated to an eclecticLondon's historic Trafalgar Square was transformed last night (April 29) for a free concert to celebrate South Africa's seventh year as a democracy. The 30,000 strong crowd was treated to an eclectic mix of pop, rock, and South African music from the likes of R.E.M., the Corrs, Mel B, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dave Stewart, and Hugh Masekela.
Despite the impressive line-up and inspiring setting, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly an address by the former South African president, Nelson Mandela. After being introduced by British prime minister Tony Blair -- whose appearance was met with loud booing -- Mr. Mandela was given a rapturous response. Delivering an emotive speech, he told the audience, "I am a proud and happy person to be here with the British people who have traveled the road to freedom with us."
Due to time restrictions, some artists were limited to performing a single song. Fortunately, R.E.M. managed to squeeze in seven tracks before the 10.30 p.m. curfew. Despite the drizzling rain, the upbeat crowd was delighted by an energetic set that included "The Great Beyond," "Imitation of Life," "Walk Unafraid," "Losing My Religion," and "Man on the Moon."
The event followed the Wembley Stadium Freedom Concert in 1988, and a similar concert there two years later, which celebrated Mandela's release from jail. Trafalgar Square, which houses the South African high commission, has in the past played host to many demonstrations against apartheid, celebrations to mark Mandela's freedom, and a speech by the freedom fighter in 1996 after he became president of South Africa.