How Haringey helped to free Nelson Mandela

The sad loss of Nelson Mandela this week took me back to student days, the boycotting of Barclay’s bank, and concerts and campaigns all over the country in support of the ANC’s struggle.

I was interested therefore to see the excellent piece by Richard McKeever of Bowes and Bounds Connected on the day that Nelson Mandela came to Alexandra Park, not long after his release in 1990. Mandela had come visit life long friend and fellow campaigner Oliver Tambo at his house in Alexandra Park Road – Tambo had spent 30 years in exile in the UK, from 1960 to 1990, and had recently suffered a stroke.

It wasn’t, however, Mandela’s first visit to the area. A self-confessed Anglophile, Mandela had stayed with Tambo during a ten night ‘underground visit’ in 1962.

The area’s connections with the anti-apartheid movement go much deeper however. The presence of Tambo and fellow campaigners Yusuf Dadoo and Vella Pillay, all living in Haringey, meant strong links with the ANC at a time when they were still regarded by some as a terrorist organisation.

African Sounds, the first Nelson Mandela birthday concert, took place at Alexandra Palace in 1983. Headlined by Hugh Masekela, it was attended by one Jerry Dammers who at that time had never heard of Mandela. The chants of “Free Nelson Mandela” from the crowd inspired him to write the Specials song of the same name, and go on to form Artists Against Apartheid with Tambo’s son Dali. Together with the Anti Apartheid Movement, Artists Against Apartheid organised the 70th birthday concert at Wembley which was broadcast all over the world and lead in no small measure to Mandela’s final release.

Tambo died in 1993 and a memorial was erected in the Albert Road Rec in 2007 – Mandela sent a message care of his daughter Zenani, who attended the unveiling.

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