December 5: “Free Nelson Mandela,” The Special AKA

I’m sure there are radio stations playing “Sun City” tonight in their reports on the late Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary life as an anti-apartheid leader and the first democratic president of South Africa, but around here, it’s The Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela”. This is an energetic romp that you can enjoy without having the slightest idea what or who Nelson Mandela is, and I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it — either at school dance or on CFNY — that was the case. At the same time, the song gives you the highlights of the story (to that point, anyway) in a few short verses:

21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see (I say)

Free Nelson Mandela

(I’m begging you)

Pleaded the causes of the ANC
Only one man in a large army
Are you so blind that you cannot see
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear him (it’s clear)

If you don’t want to know more after hearing that, with horns and pennywhistle and back-up singers, there’s something wrong with you.

The cover of the copy of the “Free Nelson Mandela” single I have is exactly what you want for a message song: black and white, no nonsense, big photo, and extensive text on both the front:

FreeNMcover     photo copy

… and the back, picking up  the story where the song leaves off.


I went to see Nelson Mandela when he came to Toronto in 1990. After hearing so much about him for years I was amazed to see that in the flesh he was a normal-, not super-sized person, even smaller than some of the dignitaries on stage with him. He went to New York for a visit shortly thereafter and wore an all-Yankees uniform for several days of his American tour. Rest in peace, Nelson. Amandla Ngawhetu.