City Desk

On Nelson Mandela and D.C. Punks


It was spring 1985, and TransAfrica had been staging regular demonstrations at the South African Embassy for six months, igniting the Free South Africa movement. But the protests were forced more than a football field's length down Massachusetts Avenue NW by regulations governing actions at embassies. Some disgruntled D.C. punks wanted to push the issue, to be more disruptive to the embassy’s business as usual.

Searching for a sufficiently in-their-face approach, Chris Bald suggested that Beefeater play “Apartheid No” at maximum volume on the back of a truck right in front of the embassy. When organizers realized this was logistically unfeasible, they decided to do what punks do best: Make some serious noise! Several dozen D.C. punks proceeded to do just this, regularly making an anti-apartheid din with drums and other items over the summer of 1985—Revolution Summer—and off and on until 1990.


At the outset, few of us knew who Nelson Mandela was, or that he had been in prison for longer than many of us had been alive. This was just one of the lessons learned as we tried to show a tiny shred of the amazing courage of our teenage peers in South Africa, who literally put their lives on the line standing against the evil of apartheid.

We grew up a bit in the process, deepened our souls and our understanding, were changed for the better, and for good. Viva Nelson Mandela!


Mark Andersen was a co-founder of D.C. punk activist collective Positive Force, an organizer of the local punk protests against apartheid. He now co-directs We Are Family.

Flyers by Tomas Squip, photo by Bert Queiroz

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  • Oscar O

    Back then it seems that it was easy to know that what you were doing at events like this was causing a ruckus. But it must feel vindicating to know that you were on the right side of things in the mid-1980s, before Mandela was released.

    Hindsight is clear, but to risk your hide during the "fog of war" for something you believe in is a personal risk that reaps rewards we sometimes lose sight of.

  • Nancy

    This all makes me wonder if Dave Grohl was in attendance at any of these protests.... Long live the DC music scene!

  • john

    Black are always arrested for no reason. He was African so that's why whites view him different