Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu calling for ‘Freedom for Nelson Mandela’ in Hyde Park, London on 17 July 1988. Thousands of demonstrators marched through central London to a rally attended by 250,000 people. The rally was the climax of the AAM’s ‘Nelson Mandela: Freedom at 70’ campaign and the biggest ever anti-apartheid demonstration in Britain.


In 1964 Nelson Mandela and seven other leaders of the African National Congress and Umkhonto we Sizwe were sentenced to life imprisonment. International pressure helped save them from the death penalty.


In 1980 a new campaign for Mandela’s release was initiated inside South Africa by the Sunday Post newspaper. In the 1980s Mandela received an avalanche of honours from all over the world, especially in Britain. In 1981 Glasgow City Council was the first of nine British local authorities to make Mandela a freeman of their city. Streets, gardens and buildings were named in Mandela’s honour. Over 2,000 mayors from cities on every continent signed a declaration calling for his release.


The AAM launched the ‘Nelson Mandela: Freedom at 70’ campaign at a concert in Wembley Stadium in 1988. Rock stars played to a capacity audience and the concert was broadcast by the BBC to over 60 countries. Next day 25 freedom marchers set off from Glasgow for London, where they arrived on the eve of Mandela’s birthday. A quarter of a million people gathered in Hyde Park to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu call for Mandela’s release. On 18 July a special service was held in St James’s Piccadilly and thousands of cards were delivered to South Africa House.


Mandela was released two years later, on 11 February 1990. In April he came to London, where he was welcomed at a second Wembley concert. He thanked the people of Britain and said the support he had received from the Anti-Apartheid Movement was ‘a source of real inspiration’.

Mandela had become an icon of the freedom struggle. His release unleashed a wave of support for the ANC and heralded the beginning of the negotiations which led to a free and democratic South Africa.

Wembley arenaPart of the capacity crowd at the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, 11 June 1988. The concert was organised by the AAM with the support of Artists Against Apartheid and was broadcast to 63 countries. It was part of the AAM’s ‘Nelson Mandela: Freedom at 70’ campaign. Mandela became a household name and a public opinion poll found that 70% of people in Britain supported the call for his release. Copyright © Gill Edelstein/IDAF