The Anti-Apartheid March 21 Big Concert made Japanese history as the first major event of its kind ever in this country. But you wouldn’t have known it by the way the Japanese press handled the news.
An estimated 5,000 spectators — about half of the anticipated turnout — attended the day-long event at Morinomiya Nissay Stadium, home of the Kintetsu Buffaloes baseball team. The crowd seemed more interested in the musicians than the message of the concert, but just the fact that the well-organized gathering occurred says much about the rising anti-apartheid mood in Kansai and throughout Japan.
That this epoch-making concert took place more than 40 years after apartheid was officially instituted does not excuse Japan’s complacency on the subject. Yet the event undoubtedly demonstrated that the tide is rapidly changing and the anti-apartheid movement growing ever stronger.
But where, oh where, was the Japanese media during this piece of history? Taking a holiday, as designated by the central government.
For those of us in the movement, the meaning of March 21 can never be forgotten: the day 69 of our brothers and sisters were gunned down in cold blood (and many others injured) at a place called Sharpeville. For the Japanese press, though, March 21 was their day off and that meant that there were virtually no newspapers published the following day. So, as far as some print media people were concerned, the “Anti-Apartheid March 21 Big Concert” never took place, never even existed. The TV media did air a few seconds on the concert, but that was it. Admittedly, we did receive decent pre-event coverage, but the post-concert coverage showed all too clearly the media’s weaknesses in ignoring the news while the rest of the world turns. And this criticism is not meant to stop with the media: Sad to say, their apathy is only symptomatic of the attitude of the government and society in general.
Some general thoughts on the concert: The high points came as a group of Kansai-wide activists both opened and closed the seven-hour show by going up on stage and singing “Nkosi Sikilel i’Afrika,” the African National Anthem, before thousands of spectators. The audience of mostly young pop music fans seemed less enthusiastic than we were, but one couldn’t help feeling that somehow the message had sunk in. It was very heartwarming just to be involved.
Unfortunately, Jerry Matsila of the ANC [African National Congress] Tokyo office couldn’t make his pre-planned speech due to his last-minute trip to Europe. Nevertheless, we knew he was with us in spirit as Prisca Mdotsi of the United Nations Regional Development Center in Nagoya announced Jerry’s personal endorsement to the audience. Prisca’s presence and Jerry’s message provided a sense of solidarity and militancy to the concert.
But most important of all was the clear statement the concert delivered on behalf of us all: “Wake up, Japan! We are no longer prepared to support your ties to South Africa, home of the world’s most despicable system of racial discrimination.”
The March 21 concert may have been the first in Japan, but it is by no means the last. It is only the beginning.