Human Rights

Stories from the UN Archive: Stevie Wonder sounds a note against apartheid

“You know you are saying something right,” Stevie Wonder told reporters at UN Headquarters on his birthday in 1985. “I really don’t mind being banned. The sad thing is, I’d like to see South Africa, and I’d like to unite with my brothers and sisters in South Africa, but as long as this condition exists in the world, we cannot continue to support it as a country, as a people. We did away with it here. We can damn sure do away with it there.” 

UN Photo/Allan Tannenbaum

A segregated beach at Stranofontein near Cape Town, South Africa, in 1985. (file)

The music legend held a press conference following an epic performance at a meeting of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid to honour him on his 35th birthday.

“All people are created equal, not created to take care of another race of people,” he told the committee.

“The resettlement camps are wrong. If they are so great, why don’t the whites want to live there?”

Watch Mr. Wonder’s full appearance in the General Assembly Hall here, and listen to his birthday press conference here.

In 1985, South Africa’s Government banned his songs, including It’s Wrong (Apartheid), after the musician dedicated his Oscar award to Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner since 1962 who fought against the concept of legal race-based segregation.

Five years later, in 1990, Mr. Mandela addressed the UN Special Committee against Apartheid himself, four months after his prison release and four years before he was elected President of South Africa. Listen to Mr. Mandela’s full address here.


The UN General Assembly has taken a range of actions against apartheid, including adopting resolution 32/105 B proclaiming 1978 as the International Anti-Apartheid Year and another in 2009 recognising 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day.

On #ThrowbackThursday, UN News is showcasing pivotal moments across the UN’s past. From the infamous and nearly-forgotten to world leaders and global superstars, stay tuned for a taste of the UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video recordings and 18,000 hours of audio chronicling.

Visit UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive playlist here and our accompanying series here. Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.



  1. Do you think music can truly impact social and political change, as Stevie Wonder believed with his stance against apartheid? How effective can music be in bringing about real change in the world?

  2. Stevie Wonder’s words are powerful and inspiring. It’s admirable how he stood up against apartheid and voiced his support for equality and justice. His courage and determination are truly commendable, setting a great example for everyone.

  3. Do you think the music industry has changed enough to truly combat apartheid and other forms of discrimination as Stevie Wonder advocated for in 1985?

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