ROME, November 14 – Ever the activist, South African legend Miriam Makeba, the musical symbol of the struggle against apartheid, died after singing in support of an Italian author facing death threats from the mafia.
The benefit concert in Castel Volturno, near southern Naples, on Sunday was staged to show solidarity for Roberto Saviano, author of the best-selling mafia expose "Gomorrah."
Underscoring the uphill struggle against the Camorra, the workers who set up the stage for the concert were forced to pay extortion money, said Castel Volturno mayor Francesco Nuzzo.
"The concert organisers are going to lodge a complaint in the coming days," Nuzzo told AFP.
About 1,000 people attended the concert in Castel Volturno, a stronghold of the Camorra mafia that was denounced in Saviano’s "Gomorrah," whose film version won second prize at the 2008 Cannes film festival and is now in the running for an Oscar.
Castel Volturno was the scene of the shooting deaths in September of six African immigrants by a suspected Camorra commando unit in circumstances that remain unclear. An Italian businessman was also killed in a separate attack the same day.
The town plans a memorial service for Makeba in the coming days, the mayor said.
The 76-year-old Makeba died of a heart attack after collapsing onstage while fans were shouting for encores.
Makeba had been the last to go onstage, performing for half an hour before collapsing, according to Carlo Hermann, an AFP photographer who covered the concert and witnessed fellow singers rush to her aid.
Last month, six Nobel prizewinners including Makeba’s compatriot Desmond Tutu launched an appeal to urge the Italian government to assume its "responsibility" to protect Saviano, 28.
Altogether some 100,000 people have joined the petition, prompted by Saviano’s announcement that he would flee Italy after learning that the Camorra want him dead by Christmas.
Signatories also include Nobel peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev and literature prizewinners Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, German author Guenter Grass and Italian playwright Dario Fo.
If Saviano leaves Italy, he would become the first writer to do so because of mafia death threats.