U2 Dragged Into Race Relations

The big story might have been about the South African Roadies Association picketing U2’s Johannesburg show Feb. 13, but Bono grabbed international headlines by singing a song associated with the blacks’ struggle for equality.

Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr claimed to have thrown his U2 tickets in the Jukskei River as a protest against Bono singing “Kill The Boer,” an African National Congress anthem.

The incident was picked up by newspapers all over the world, thereby denying SARA leader Freddie Nyathela the international platform he’d been seeking.

Nyathela and his roadies association have waged a long and loud battle against what they claim to be the South African music industry’s inherent racism, which rose to fever pitch in the days leading up to U2’s 95,000-capacity sellout at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium.

Nyathela released a statement Feb. 14 accusing U2 of “trampling on transformation” by working with tour promoter Big Concerts, claiming the companies involved in the Irish act’s shows are doing nothing for the empowerment of black Labour.

It made allegations of racism and said U2 manager Paul McGuinness and Live Nation global touring chief exec Arthur Fogel “should be ashamed of themselves.”

McGuiness and Fogel responded with a joint statement that said the allegations of racism aren’t true and pointed out that in Johannesburg 97 percent of the local crew were black and for the show in Durban Feb. 18, 100 percent of the local crew is black.

It said the show production is contracted to the All Access Company – the highest-rated and most skilled labour crew provider in South Africa – which has a Black Economic Empowerment Rating of Level 3.

“In addition, through All Access, the tour has provided 50 Workshop Training positions for local black youths,” it said.

McGuiness and Fogel both say they offered to meet with representatives of SARA.

In the week before the show, All Access and equipment supplier Gearhouse both released statements rebutting Nyathela’s allegations and giving details of how many of their own workforces are black.