Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday

Lefty celebrity culture got some things right, and had fun along the way. (h/t Erik Eckholm)

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

19 thoughts on “Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday”

    1. Not sure, but he used to support the National Front and had a habit of chanting “Keep Britain White” at concerts. That was in the 70’s as best as I recall, so he might have mellowed with age. Reading up on his views a couple years ago I was struck by the fact that he had not really never owned up to those times or changed that much. He merely regretted speaking out and had a bunch of non-denial, denials about his racism.

      Admiring him for this performance seems, well, complicated, as the kids say.

      1. It’s not actually clear that he had a habit of chanting that, although there is a famous incident where he did. What is very clear, however, is that he was a strong supporter of Enoch Powell and his views on immigration, and still stands by that opinion when asked about it.

      2. I’m not sure Clapton ever supported the NF or chanted “Keep Britain white!”. What he announced from the stage was, “Enoch (Powell) was right”. He has never recanted that position, and has more or less repeated it in interviews. So he can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned.

        On the other hand, he seems to be quite good friends with a lot of African American blues artists, so maybe he’s cool with black people as long as they don’t live in Britain. Stuff him anyway.

  1. One thing I find very interesting about Mandela is that he was not a a pacifist like Martin Luther King or Gandhi – and so was more like most of us in his attitude to political violence in a just cause. The Xhosa, like the Zulus, are a warrior people who fought no less than nine wars against the Dutch and British colonists and colonial armies. Mandela supported the creation of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto na Sizwe (MK), in 1961. But he managed to resist being sucked in to the logic of violence: deaths, retaliation, more killing. Partly of course this was a rational response to the military failure of MK – by 1970 it had essentially been driven out of South Africa, whose desolate borders did not offer the safe havens available to Algerian and Palestinian militants. Partly, it was the quality of the man. He was much more than a black Gerry Adams.

    1. On “Q” last Friday, Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Cornell West. West remains a purist and lamented Mandela’s lack of commitment, especially in comparison to King. Suffering a lack of purity, I suppose, I do not begrudge politicians their pragmatism. Far from it.

      1. West remains a purist and lamented Mandela’s lack of commitment

        Yeah, if only Mandela had had the courage to be an Ivy League professor, then he would have really made a difference.

      2. Thus further demonstrating that there is little Cornel West won’t do in order to reinforce his central thesis, that being that people should pay more attention to Cornel West.

        I remember reading a couple of his books with great interest, twenty years ago. It really is a shame what his incessant quest for attention has done to him in the intervening years.

    2. I recall reading many years ago (in Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals? so perhaps not an authoritative reference) that Gandhi turned to non-violence/passive resistace, at least initially, strictly out of a realistic assessment of what was possible in India: between the Brits having the vast and overwhelming preponderance of weapons and the fatalism of, in particular, the Indian peasantry, passive resistance was the only effective tactic at hand.[1] So perhaps Gandhi, although the developer and practitioner of a theory of passive resistance, is not so very different from Mandela.

      [1] While there is a tendency in the West to attribute this fatalism to Hinduism & Islam or being Asian, my recollection is that this story attributed it, in Gandhi’s analysis, to the structure of the Raj and the ideological hegemony it had in India. I have heard, though have no expertise on the matter, that traditional Hinduism is in many aspects a very martial religion, or perhaps more accurately that it respects, if not celebrates, martial virtues and behavior.

      1. Yes, there certainly is a strain of pragmatism that informed Mandela’s and Gandhi’s choices as moral giants. If you have a goal beyond merely preaching a philosophy, these better of the choices at the moment tends to determine the course of action. Mandela was flexible about this, in contrast to Gandhi.

        I suspect Gandhi viewed the situation with pacifism as one where it was the only effective tool for the politically weak and disempowered and was worthless for the oppressor, since they had access to weapons, but rarely could permanently sway the minds of those they dominated.

        Another factor to consider is the length of time of colonial dominance. In India, several centuries of rule established the British as de facto rulers, although their cultural impact was also influential. In South Africa, resistance to the Aftikaner (and British, etc) was within living memory when the ANC was founded. It’s a little harder to resist the allure and potential gains of using violence under such circumstances, which is what makes Mandela’s path all the more remarkable, even though he wasn’t a pacifist.

  2. By coincidence, I red yesterday on Rolling Stone a fluff piece about 50 Things the Millenials Never Knew. One of them was Mark Knopfler. Sad, that.

    Watching this ten minute video made me think how much fun it is to be really good at something, and to have peers to share it with. At the 6:30 mark, Knopfler wanders off to the side for a conversation with Clapton. You can see how much each enjoyed sharing the moment with the other.

    Thank you, Harold.

    P.S. Ralph, I don’t know whether Clapton is a southpaw, but I’ve never seen a photo of him playing the guitar left-handed.

    1. Knopfler is awesome and the Millenials are missing out.

      Watching this ten minute video made me think how much fun it is to be really good at something, and to have peers to share it with. At the 6:30 mark, Knopfler wanders off to the side for a conversation with Clapton. You can see how much each enjoyed sharing the moment with the other.

      Knopfler is more at ease with himself than any artist I’ve ever seen. He just seems to be an all around happy guy and it shows both in his performances and in his music.

  3. Harold,
    Thanks for that! A big fan of Knopfler and it’s good to be reminded of how many thoughtful people stuck their necks out supporting Mandela and the ANC long before it was fashionable. I’ll just say it’s one of the best efforts I ever gave direct support to as an activist.* I’ll make no excuses for the lame post-struggle leadership in the ANC. That is the nature of liberation struggles. It could have turned out a lot better, but it also could have turned out far, far worse. Mandela’s visionary leadership played a big role in that, although there is plenty of credit to go around to many, many comrades in South Africa and beyond, too.

    * At the height of the debates over boycotting and divestiture in South Africa, the contra war was heating up in Nicaragua. I was among the organizers of a Armed Forces Day protest on the local mil installation, where we carefully calibrated our actions to call maximum attention to both causes and disruption to the celebration of Cold War military might. For a few hours, I was caged, sharing not a cell, but a cause with Mandela. Lucky me, they threw us all off-base with no-trespass letters. Nelson still had years more to serve — from inside a cage and then outside of it in triumph.

    I went on to other things, but for me his death is both a memorial to his notable and inspiring life and to a simpler, if scarier time. I’m constantly amazed at the scared-out-of-our-wits dog and pony show that the “war on terrorism” evokes, given the altogether different scale of nuclear terror our nation faced for decades. In our time, Mandela would be called a terrorist still, if not for the good fortune of history. RIP, Nelson. Amandla!

  4. Just a programming note: when you say in your title “celebrating Mandela’s 70th birthday”, we should remember that on his 70th birthday Mandela was still in prison, had been for a quarter-century. His conditions of imprisonment started to improve later that year, and two years later he was free – but observation of his 70th birthday was a very political act.

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