/ 22 May 2008

Mandela’s story to be retold in song, on Broadway

Characters in the current crop of Broadway musicals include a murderous barber, a lovesick mermaid and the Swedish pop band, Abba. Now a new hero is to join them: Nelson Mandela.

A leading group of Broadway producers is planning a show that will put to music the story of Mandela’s 27 years in prison and his work with other African National Congress leaders to end apartheid. It will be based on the upcoming memoir of Zindzi Mandela, a daughter from his marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

This is not the first time the anti-apartheid struggle has made it to Broadway. Sarafina!, a musical telling the story of the 1976 Soweto riots, ran for 18 months from 1988.

The new musical was first suggested five years ago, but the producers said they were waiting for the right inside story to come along. Zindzi Mandela’s memoir, they said, provided that opportunity.

She was 18 months old when her father was jailed. She was only allowed to visit him for 30 minutes every six months for the 18 years he was held on Robben Island. In 1985, aged 14, she made the world’s headlines when she carried a message from her father in which he refused to accept a conditional offer of release from the apartheid government.

After his release in 1990, she helped him readjust to outside life. In 1995, a year after he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, she told Thandi magazine: ”From the day my father was free, we had to share him with the rest of the world. It sounds cynical but since he is free, we see less of him than before.”

This week she said it was the right time for the Mandela story to be told. ”The freedom songs were so important to the morale of the people, so it’s natural for the story to be told with music.” — Â