South Africa gave us much more than we gave it. Its exiled artists for example. In the mid 1960’s The Last Poets were named from a poem by Keorapetse_Kgositsile an exile in NY who atteneded the same writers workshop in Harlem. Now Keorapetse is poet Laureate of South Africa and The Last Poets are The Godfathers of rap. UK based poets Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah and US poet Gil Scott Heron decried apartheid and through this they decried racism in the UK and US respectively. In his song Johannesburg Gil Scott Heron ends by listing US cities “Detroit like Johannesburg, New York like Johannesburg.. freedom ain’t nothing but a word ain’t nothing but a word…”.
In the UK Jerry Dammers wrote Free Nelson Mandela and Labbi Siffre wrote Something Inside So Strong. Black and white found a friend in the struggle. It became symbolic of their pain. Within 18 months of the fall of apartheid I was there performing on stage and forging friendships with South Africans artists. On Robben Island with South African musicians and poets aged from 25 to 65 we lived; slept in prison officers quarters, rehearsed in the prison officers community hall and bought our food supplies from the prison officers shop. Nothing had changed except there were no prison officers. Robben Island was a living museum and we were the first artists in residence in its history. Sandile