Rocking The Botha - New Musical Express - 26 October 1985
| WHEN A POP STAR begins a sentence with "it's just been fantastic to work with..." you await the inevitable "Stevie Wonder", "David Bowie", or "Grandmaster Superflash Megatalent (Thank You, God)III," and yawn.
But when that pop star is as undemonstrative a character as Jerry Dammers, and the sentence actually ends with "the students who are members of SWAPO", you sit up and take notice.
The special Special continues: "They were just so brilliant to work with compared with the usual prima donna and egos you normally find in studios".
Dammers is talking about his work as producer and arranger of a remarkable new single that's released this week. Called 'The Wind Of Change', and issued by Rough Trade, it features, along with the forementioned student chorus, a lead vocal by the peerless Robert Wyatt, plus work by Lynval Golding, Ben Medelsohn, Dick Cuthell, Annie Whitehead and JD himself.
The record has been made to publicise a campaign aimed at highlighting the continuing terror-random arrests, detentions, torture, disappearances and deaths - perpetrated by South African troops in the newly 'independent' state of Namibia.
Remember Namibia? A few years ago, as the outgunned military wing of the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) grimly harrassed the South African forces, Namibia - a country bigger than France but composed mainly of rock-strewn desert - was often in the news. Lately, though, the unfolding agony of the continent's northern famine and the accelerated ticking of the bomb under Botha's fool's paradise have totally overshadowed its fate.
So, some facts: This year Namibia was granted notional independence from South Africa. What this amounted to in practice was the installation of an interim government that even Pretoria sneeringly refers to as 'The Pupppet Show'.
Namibia is victim of the most intense military occupation on the planet today. Over 125.000 South-African Army and Police personnel oversee 1.5 million Namibians. That's one occupier for very 13 civilians! Imagine over three million hostile troops stalking the British mainland and, even allowing for Namibia's relative vastness, you're beginning to appreciate the scale of the operation.
And those forces, given carte blanche by the notorious Proclamation AG 26. have systematically terrorised all those inclined to oppose the Pinnochio regime. Britain, though a signatory to the UN agreement that recognises SWAPO as "the sole and authentic representative of the Namibians people", turns a blind eye. No surprise this, as nine multinational companies (foremost among them Standard Chartered Bank, Consolidated Goldfield and, natch, Barclays) are in virtual control of the economy and Britain gets most of its uranium for military and civilian projects from Namibia.
In short, Namibia is under the cosh, up the creek and in the shit.
The Dammers/Wyatt/SWAPO disc aims to spotlight a specific area of Namibia's continuing pain - the detention and maltreatment of political prisoners. Dammers, whose 'Free Nelson Mandela' single predated that slogan's current popularity by over twelve months, is self-effacing about his role.
"I was fairly ignorant about Namibia, but when I was approached and the situation was explained to me, I could hardly refuse, could I? I'm nothing special, it's just that I happen to have access to the media, and if Robert and I can get some attention for the campaign, then we've achieved something."
Robert Wyatt - whose contribution to the 'Last Nightingale' EP was one of the few vinyl supports offered the miners during their dispute - is well aware that music can only do so much.
"There was a euphoria in the '60s when Dylan picked up on Woodie Guthrie and it was felt that you could protest your way out of Vietnam. However, the result of that movement is Ronald Reagan so the power of song to move continents was, erm, overstated.
"That said, my friends in the anti-apartheid movement said that Jerry's record was a great boost and helped enormously in getting up interest when they were organising the protests against Botha's visit here. So that had a real and tangible effect and the South Africans do seem afraid of pop. They've even banned Stevie Wonder. Maybe to find out how effective political pop is, we should ask our enemies!"
Equally, Wyatt does not fight shy of SWAPO's double edged sword - its military effort which accompanies and complements its political activities. Merely relying on Western goodwill to liberate and feefits people, he argues, is insufficient for Namibia and the embattled Thirld World in general.
"The trouble with compassion, as anyone who's studied America in the last ten years knows, is what the Americans now refer to as 'compassion fatigue'. The liberals just got bored with sharing their resources, and didn't want to bother anymore. If history has taught us anything, it's that you cannot rely on the compassion of the rich and powerful."
SWAPO is habitually referred to in certain quarters- go on, guess - as a 'terrorist' organisation.
"If people want to use that word you have to question their motives. South Africa is a State terrorist organisation in the same way that Hitler's Germany was. Our response to Hitler was correct, and I've never heard Churchill called a terrorist!"
So there it is. You can buy 'The Wind Of Change' because it's a fine record, because it's got Robert Wyatt and Jerry Dammers on it, because you wish to support those rotting in Robben Island gaol or just because you want to shout, at this appropriate time and in the words of the fine Microdisney, "we hate you South African batards!!!"
But do buy it!