/ 2 December 2007

Thousands rock against Aids in Jo’burg

Tens of thousands of people filed into Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday for a 10-hour music extravaganza beamed to millions around the globe for World Aids Day.

The concert at the 50 000-seater stadium got under way on Saturday afternoon and lasted late into the night, with 30 local and international artists performing, ranging from Ludacris to Peter Gabriel.

The event was organised by the 89-year-old Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Aids campaign, named after his prison number from his years in jail during South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Thirteen years after apartheid ended and after Mandela became president in South Africa’s first ever democratic elections, the country is now on the frontline of the struggle against HIV.

About 5,5-million of its 48-million people are infected — the world’s worst rate, according to recent United Nations data.

The international line-up kicked off with London-based band Razorlight, followed by Gabriel, with performances interspersed with information on Aids and video clips of orphanages and Aids projects.

Local favourites, such as MTV Award winners Freshlyground, reminded the crowd to be thankful they were ”alive and well”.

The 46664 theme of ”It’s in our hands” was illustrated by a video clip showing Mandela’s journey from young lawyer to freedom fighter to the country’s first democratic president.

Large 46664 banners bearing the hands of the Nobel laureate surrounded the stage, as condoms were dispersed among the young crowd.

”It’s about the cause. It’s about the good music and getting people together for something that’s close to our hearts,” said concert-goer Ingrid Heymann.

Another audience member, Craig Allen, said: ”You only have to give a little and it can mean a lot to other people.”.

Gabriel performed his Biko song about apartheid activist Steve Biko, echoing comments from Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu at that time that the ”same power and intensity” were needed to fight Aids.

South Africa’s deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka thanked the performers.

”It’s about preventing the infections. It’s about caring for the people who are already sick … it’s about rolling out the treatment and ensuring we empower women who are at the frontline of the battle,” she said.

Supermodel and close friend of Mandela Naomi Campbell also made a surprise appearance, urging people to get tested for Aids.

”I know its a fearful thing,” she said. ”Basically we cannot stress too much how important it is to protect yourself from this virus.”

Previous 46664 concerts, in which stars such as Queen and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) participated, took place in Cape Town and the Western Cape city of George, as well as in Spain and Norway.

Another edition is scheduled for June 27 2008 in London to mark Mandela’s 90th birthday. — AFP