I found out about Stephen Biko first. Like so many clever Americans, my world politics were shaped by popular music. And while Peter Gabriel's song, "Biko," at almost eight minutes long was never exactly a "hit," it was still the way I started to educate myself about what was happening in South Africa. A lot of people were dying there. It had something to do with Apartheid.
As the eighties wore on and I began to learn more about the way things were on the rest of the planet, I decided to join Amnesty International. By the time I got my membership card and sent my first round of letters to various governments who were doing horrible things to their own people, I became aware of Nelson Mandela. It helped that there was a pop song to go along with the story, but I was amazed at the story of this one man and his struggle to free not just himself but his entire country. He was South Africa's Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington all at once. The twenty-seven years he was imprisoned only served to make him stronger, and when he was finally released in 1990, Apartheid was ended, and he became South Africa's president.
Mandela's strength and resolve are the kind of things that books are written about, movies are made, and songs are written. Little Steven shined a light on the evils of Apartheid with his musician friends as he encouraged us all "not to play Sun City." Even if Queen and Elton John didn't listen, it was pop music stirring the pot that got us all curious what all the fuss was about. Or maybe that was just the lens through which I was looking. For the first time ever, Little Steven's Boss will be playing South Africa next year. It's just a shame that Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela never got to see Springsteen live.
Aloha, Nelson Mandela. You stomped on the terra with dignity and grace. You will be missed.