In the late 1980’s South Africa was creaking at the seams but to the generation that were forced into military service, denied travel opportunities and robbed of seeing their sports teams participating on the international playing fields of the world, it was not that obvious to see.
There were State of Emergencies and some young South Africans had to take part in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the biggest military action involving South Africa since World War 2.
The fact that the rest of the world could not be wrong and that the Pretoria Regime was indeed on the ropes was taking time to sink in the hearts and heads of South Africans as the iron fist in which then President PW Botha held the country, seemed unshakable.
Military camps that disrupted lives and coupled with the increased resistance from within the townships of South Africa, many decided to emigrate and seek greener pastures elsewhere in the world.
U2 was already well known in South Africa with anthems like “New Year’s Day” (1983) being played religiously at New Year parties from the old hotel at St Francis Bay to the Sapphire Disco at Queensberry Bay.
The Joshua Tree catapulted U2 into becoming the favourite band on many South Africans with songs from the album being played on Radio 5 all day and all night long. The old cassette that was the only way of playing music in cars would blare U2 along the highways and in parking lots across the country.
And in 1988, Rattle and Him was released, containing a song for South Africa entitled “Silver and Gold”. At the end of the song Bono launched into a speech that suddenly gave South Africans a new hope.
“Yep, silver and gold. This song was written in a hotel room in New York City right about the time a friend of ours, Little Steven, was putting together a record of Artists Against Apartheid! It’s a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg, a man who’s sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa, a man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor, a man who has lost faith in the peacemakers of the West. While they argue, and while they fail to support a man like Bishop Tutu, and his requests for economic sanctions against South Africa. Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya…okay Edge, play the blues!”
This speech was followed by one of the finest guitar riffs ever played by the Edge as he played the blues.
The power of music was used by U2 to make sense of the madness that was engulfing South Africa at the time and it was a brief two years later that Nelson Mandela strode out of jail and lead the country away from the abyss of civil war that was threatening it.
“Silver and Gold” told South Africans that the eyes of the world were watching now as predicted by Peter Gabriel many years before in his song “Biko”. In 1998 the moment the South African U2 fans had been waiting for: U2 playing live in Cape Town and Johannesburg and 13 long years later, the Dublin crew are back in town.