Songs for Mandela
July 18, 2013
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“The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale. You may be poor, you may have only a ramshackle house, you may have lost your job, but that song gives you hope.  African music is often about the aspirations of humanity.”

– Nelson Mandela


Here are  my top 10 songs inspired by our beloved Madiba.

1. Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg

This powerful anti-apartheid anthem still brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of attending the 46664 concert in Johannesburg in 2007, and seeing Madiba on stage in one of his last public appearances.  Johnny Clegg wrote Asimbonanga (We have not seen him), which calls for Mandela’s release, in 1987,  a crazy time in South Africa’s history. I also love that this song is a tribute to all the anti-apartheid activists who were lost to the struggle, not just Mandela. Do yourself a favour and watch this video until the end, where’ you’ll get to see the famous Madiba shuffle and his glorious smile. Priceless.


2. Bring him back home – Hugh Masekela

This 1987 hit became an anthem for  the ‘Free Mandela’ campaign in the ’80s.

3. Free Nelson Mandela  –  The Specials

Probably the most famous anti-apartheid protest song internationally, the 1984 hit  “(Free) Nelson Mandela” by the Specials helped to make Mandela’s cause more widely known around the world.


4. When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela

5. Black President – Brenda Fassie


6. Nelson Mandela Song – Nomfusi & the Lucky Charms


7. Mandela Day – Simple Minds


8. Mandela – Salif Keita

9. Mr Mandela – Trenton & Free Radical

This is a special version of their 2010 track, Mr Mandela, with the Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (CPYO)  and 24 learners from the South Africa Youth Choir (SAYC), to celebrate Mandela Day 2013.


10. Number 46664 – Bono, Joe Strummer & Dave Stewart


For insights into the role of music on the antu-aprtheid struggle,  watch the documentary Amandla!


“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world and at peace with myself”

– Nelson Mandela


What is your favourite Mandela inspired song? Have I left out any significant ones? 


About author

Meruschka Govender

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There are 2 comments

  • A great collection of Madiba songs. No 1 is my favourite as well. I love Johnny Clegg and have the cd with this song in my car.

    • mzansigirl says:

      Thanks Jonker. Love Johnny Clegg! He definitely deserves a post of his own. Never get tired of him singing Asimbonanga!

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