Amnesty South Africa – record-breaker!

By Lucy Macnamara, Demand Dignity Campaign Co-ordinator at Amnesty International

Demand Dignity is back on tour with U2, here in South Africa!

Last night, the concert experience in Johannesburg was simply breathtaking on so many levels. U2 hadn’t played South Africa since 1998, so the audience anticipation and media coverage leading up to the event was huge. With 100,000 people attending the concert (the most out of all the shows on the tour so far) contrasted to Amnesty’s presence here (the smallest Amnesty Section on the tour so far with only 500 members and four feisty staff) the sheer level of opportunity that this offered for Amnesty South Africa to grow was huge.  But with such a small team, how could we do it?

Thirty bright young Amnesty volunteers, many of whom were studying at the local Wits University, were campaigning to improve transport to health facilities for poor rural communities.  Many people living with HIV in South Africa are unable to realize their right to health, finding it difficult to access services such as HIV treatment because of infrequent and unaffordable transport –which is particularly bad for women in rural areas.

A lot of time and effort had gone into preparing for the concert. Volunteers had attended a day’s training, to learn about the campaign and practice role-playing (handling responses from ‘nice fans’ and ‘nasty fans’). Lots of work had been done in advance to develop their website and database, and the Section was poised to follow up with fans by e-mail, phone and text.  So it was with great anticipation that our volunteers started approaching the crowd with their petition.

All I can say is that some kind of special U2 and Amnesty magic went on yesterday. Whether it was the sunshine and party atmosphere or the passion, commitment and dedication of our volunteers (fortunately common traits among Amnesty volunteers around the world)… who knows. But the warmth and response from the crowd to support the petition – and leave their contact details to follow up after – was nothing less than phenomenal.

Amnesty’s highest number of signatures at a single concert ever was in Portugal, with 3,721. At every concert since, volunteers across Europe, Australia and New Zealand have tried in vain to beat them, but it was looking like no-one would be able to knock them from their position of glory. Until last night. Amnesty South Africa didn’t just beat them. They hung them out to dry. They managed to get 10,300 signatures! Which, with 100,000 people attending the concert meant that a staggering one in ten of concert attendees lent their support to Amnesty and our Demand Dignity petition.

The concert itself also held a special type of magic… Bono mentioned Amnesty International twice from the stage, and the inclusion of video footage of Nelson Mandela alongside the usual Archbishop Desmond Tutu piece turned the crowd wild. 100,000 people were screaming with delight and the crew were shaking their heads backstage in wonder.  It was a very special night – and we can’t wait to see how the show in Cape Town will go!