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Jerry David Dammers (United Kingdom)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Jerry David Dammers (United Kingdom) Awarded for:
His excellent musical contribution to the international Free Mandela Campaign and his involvement in the influential Artists Against Apartheid.
Profile of Jerry David Dammers (United Kingdom)

Jerry David Dammers is a British musician who is founder, keyboard player and primary songwriter of the revival band “The Specials” and one of the co-founders of Artists Against Apartheid (AAA).

He is famous for writing and performing the song “Free Nelson Mandela,” which was released in 1984 and became a worldwide hit soon after. At the time Nelson Mandela had been in jail for over 20 years and was an international symbol for the discrimination and deprivation experienced by millions of black people in South Africa.

Dammers’ song brought the Free Mandela Campaign to the attention of an international audience and raised awareness of the plight of thousands of political prisoners in Namibia and South Africa. The record was banned by the then South African Government, but was adopted by members of the African National Congress (ANC) at their rallies and demonstrations. In 1986, Dammers, Dali Tambo (son of ANC leader Oliver Tambo) and Chandra Sekar founded AAA, a cultural organisation that aimed to publicise the anti-apartheid movement, the ANC and Namibia’s liberation party, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo).

The AAA tried to make protest fashionable and effective by organising cultural events that rallied around political messages. The founders invited a diverse range of artists to perform in a Freedom Festival on Clapham Common in London in June 1986. Over 100 000 people from all sections of British society joined in a march before the concert, and at the height of the afternoon there were 250 000 people gathered to listen to musicians expressing their solidarity with the people of Namibia and South Africa, and to hear speakers from the ANC, Swapo, and the British anti-apartheid movement.

Two years later, The Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert was organised at Wembley Stadium in London, featuring stars such as Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Dire Straits, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Chapman and The Eurythmics. It was watched not only by a capacity audience of 72 000 at the stadium, but also on television, by almost a billion people in over 60 countries. The climax of the concert was a performance by Dammers of his song “Free Nelson Mandela” accompanied by the band, “Simple Minds”.

In 1990, this event was repeated at Wembley Stadium with Nelson Mandela able to attend the concert in person. The activism of Dammers and the “Rock Against Racism” and AAA musicians and organisers in Great Britain had played a part in securing Mandela’s release from Victor Verster Prison in February 1990. Under Dammer’s leadership, the AAA provided a multicultural and youth focus that was often seen as lacking in such political movements.

It was also due to the trust that artists gave Dammers, politically and professionally, that he was able to organise such a large number of concerts with so many well-known names at short notice and deliver well produced and promoted shows with a controversial (at the time) but sound, political message.