Saturday, June 28, 2008

Frail Mandela marks 90th birthday - The Sydney Morning Herald - 28th June 2008

A star-studded cast of artists helped Nelson Mandela celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday with a giant concert in London in support of his 46664 AIDS campaign.

Queen, Amy Winehouse and Annie Lennox were among the performers in Hyde Park for the gig, which was hosted by Hollywood star Will Smith and was held to mark Mandela's birthday on July 18.

The former South African president looked frail and leaned on a cane as he was helped onto the stage by his wife, Graca Machel. But the crowd fell silent when the global icon spoke, his brief speech bringing thunderous applause.

"Where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all," Mandela said.

"It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now. I thank you," added Mandela.

Mandela, who retired from public life nine years ago, is now expected to retreat further from the limelight.

Anglo-Swedish rockers Razorlight got the crowd going, before Scottish singer Lennox gave an impassioned speech about combating the virus.

"We must do something to prevent a virtual genocide upon your people," she said, speaking of Mandela's fellow South Africans.

She performed acapella with a choir from the Agape children's orphanage in South Africa, where most residents have lost their parents to AIDS.

Troubled British soul singer Winehouse, who has been battling drug and lung problems, was back in form with a powerful performance of two of her best-known songs, Rehab and Valerie.

Topping the bill, Queen and Paul Rodgers rocked the audience with hits like All Right Now and We Will Rock You.

To close the show, Winehouse led the ensemble in a rendition of Free Nelson Mandela, with the anti-apartheid anthem's writer Jerry Dammers on keyboards.

Mandela did not repeat his comments on the Zimbabwe crisis, but Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell, Ugandan artist Bebe Cool and Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell did mention the troubled situation.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told host broadcaster ITV that Mandela was an inspiration.

"You know when you go into a room and you meet Nelson Mandela you are in the presence of a great man - the greatest man of our generation, the leader who ended apartheid and the man whose faith in the future was such that he risked execution, prison, intimidation, violence to serve the cause that he believed in," he said.

Ben Motsumi, 45, a nurse from Klerksdorp in South Africa, brought his wife and children.

"I'm here to see Nelson Mandela," he told AFP.

"He's a hero to me. I've got all pictures of him in my house. I've been in Britain for nine years. This is an incredible occasion for us. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here."

Other performers included Simple Minds, Josh Groban, Joan Baez, Leona Lewis, the Sugababes, Eddy Grant, Jamelia, the Sudanese "war child" rapper Emmanuel Jal and a host of other African artists.

Today's concert, which was broadcast around the world, came 20 years after a concert at London's Wembley Stadium that helped press South Africa's apartheid authorities for Mandela's freedom.

Mandela said the giant 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium, which marked his 70th birthday and called for his release from jail, served to "inspire us in our prison cells".

Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr told reporters: "At the original one, there was anger involved because of the circumstances.

"This time, there's a lot more joy. It's a unique occasion."

Precisely 46,664 tickets - after Mandela's prison number during his 27-year incarceration for trying to topple South Africa's apartheid regime - went on sale for the three-and-a-half-hour concert.

The 46664 campaign, which has seen four previous multi-artist concerts, aims to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is rife in sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa is one of the countries worst hit by HIV - 5.41 million people there have the illness. Mandela lost a son to AIDS in January 2005 and has now made fighting the syndrome his main cause.

"I came to support a great man and a great cause," said Lisle Lewis, 34, from Cape Town.

"I came to say thank-you. Mandela means freedom, understanding and love. I'm going to start crying in a minute!" the dentist told AFP.

"He's taught me to be more appreciative and accepting of other races."


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