(the start of a series during the World Cup when Steve shares thoughts of faith and justice based around his experiences in the country the world is focusing on - South Africa. As the England team arrives how did Stockman end up there? A song played a major role!)
I have little time for the modern rock band that suggests or even pontificates that music cannot or should not be a transformational force. Noel Gallagher, the seemingly more intellectual of the Oasis brothers has said that he can only change things every five years in Britain, when he votes. Asked why he didn’t write political songs Alex Kapronos from Franz Ferdinand spoke of going to gigs by political bands who told him what to think, “And really early on I got sick of it. And I said to myself I might as well be going to a Christian rock gig here, with someone telling me what to think. So when I was still a teenager I decided I didn’t want to tell other people what to think from a stage; it’s not my place.” So what does art do Mr Kapranos? When you were at Glasgow school of art you didn’t think that your art had a message?
I am very glad that Peter Gabriel didn’t fall for the flakey, vacuous approach to art that Oasis and Franz Ferdinand espouse. Though, it was far from a Damascus Road conversion, and I was very slow to realise it, Gabriel’s song Biko profoundly changed my life and took me on a journey to South Africa that eventually led to many other lives being changed too. Released in 1980 and written about South African Black Conscience leader Stephen Biko, Gabriel tells the story of Biko’s inhumane treatment by the racist apartheid government’s police force and how he died in a Port Elizabeth prison in 1977. Though it failed to set the pop charts on fire, this haunting song has over thirty years become a slow burn of an anthem for justice not just in South Africa but all over the world. In 1988 Gabriel took it around the world in an Amnesty International concert that also featured U2, The Police and Bruce Springsteen. He also performed it at the Mandela Day concert in London that was a major force of pressure on the South African government to release Nelson Mandela. My favourite version of the song is the performance at the 46664 Concert in Cape Town in 2003 when in an Aids Awareness gig Gabriel got to play it on the redeemed ground of South Africa, where Biko’s death was now celebrated as a sacrifice that brought a brand new rainbow nation.
I cannot remember the first time I heard the song. However, it is my earliest memory of developing an anti-apartheid awareness. In July 2002 in a Church on the Guguletu township on the Cape Flats of Western Cape I was asked without warning to explain to the congregation why I had brought 25 white Irish students to build houses on the townships. In the few seconds it took to reach the pulpit I had to ask myself very quickly what had brought me here on my journey in order that I would think it a good idea to bring, over the course of a decade, hundreds of students along with me. The answer opened up a profound truth to me. I wasn’t there because I had heard about the injustice of apartheid from the pulpits of my Presbyterian Churches. I told the congregation that I was there because rock musicians like Peter Gabriel had sparked a passion for justice in general and their people in particular and that these rock prophets had profoundly changed my life. I went on to tell them that though many of the musicians were not Christians they forced me back to the Old Testament prophets and I was there with my students because we wanted to bring God’s Kingdom to Cape Town as it was in heaven.
As the teams arrive for the 2010 World Cup I am sure many will read the biographies about the ups and downs of how players made it to South Africa. There are more little parts to my story of how I not only arrived in but fell in love with and committed a part of my life to this amazing place but Peter Gabriel’s anthem Biko plays a major part.