Writing Contest: Semifinalist

Song: "Silver and Gold" (U2)

Katie Potter, Columbia High School, Columbia Station, OH (Teacher: John Sheridan)

"Am I buggin' ya'? I don't mean to bug ya'," Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock band,

U2, inquired of his audience one night in Tempe, Arizona, on U2's acclaimed Joshua Tree Tour.

Bono and his bandmates, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr., were in the middle of

playing a song that had been written only about two months earlier. No stranger to political

ramblings from their favorite rock star, the audience that night was not surprised when Bono

took time out of one of U2's most politically fueled songs to talk about why the song had been

written. Usually, these political lectures made the show suffer, but not that night. Instead, Bono

took a more urgent tone as he proclaimed the band's support for economic sanctions against

South Africa. These economic sanctions were one of the main themes of the song being played

in Tempe that night: "Silver and Gold."

U2 had been approached about two months before by Little Steven to contribute to a

compilation entitled Artists against Apartheid. The name of the compilation states it

plainly-this was an album saturated with over-the-top rhythms aimed at showing the world's

population how horrible apartheid was and then doing something about it. Their

"something"-and eventually most of the western world's "something"-was economic

sanctions. U2 were not afraid to write a controversial political anthem; after all, political

anthems were what had gotten them this far. So unafraid, in fact, that they actually contributed

two songs to the album, "Sun City" and "Silver and Gold." While "Sun City" was a successful

song, it did not match the anger and urgency that "Silver and Gold" possessed, and U2 knew that

when you were trying to change the political and economic systems of an entire country, anger

and urgency were what you needed.

During that performance of "Silver and Gold" in Tempe, Bono complained of losing faith

in the peacemakers of the West "while they argue, and while they fail to support...economic

sanctions against South Africa." But would economic sanctions really help? Or were U2 and

other artists arguing for something that they did not know much about?

In the eyes of the world, the government of South Africa's exploitation of their black and

"coloured" populations was horrendous. South Africa had passed laws that made it almost

impossible for members of nonwhite races to travel, work for fair wages, or even assemble. To

U2, there was only one thing that could be done: the western countries needed to stop South

Africa's successful economy. With no money, South Africa would be sure to change its system

of government. Or as "Silver and Gold" said it, "hit where it hurts, for silver and gold." But

how would they go about stopping an economy? Sanctions. More specifically, trade sanctions.

World trade is a sticky subject. While today Bono has studied world trade at Harvard, in

the late 1980s he had less of an idea of what he was talking about. Anyone can understand

simple aspects of trade though, and stopping South Africa-or any country-from being able to

export their goods to the world would eventually lead to dramatically less money pouring into

their economies. And because economies are the lifeblood of any country, suddenly that country

would be running on low. In the case of South Africa, the United Nations decided to impose

such sanctions.

Although sanctions were not the only reason for the end of apartheid, they definitely

deserve some credit. By the end of the system, South Africa's economy had slowed down.

Because sanctions were not imposed by South Africa's largest trading partners (other southern

African countries), the western sanctions were not as effective as they could have been had they

gained a broader base of implementation.

In the United States today, sanctions are controversial: while some view them as an

alternative to war, others view them as largely ineffective in changing government policies.

According to "US Economic Sanctions: Their Impact on Trade, Jobs, and Wages," a paper

written for the Institute of International Economics, only about one in five impositions of

economic sanctions by the United States (with or without its partners, the UN, or any other

organization), has been effective. Whether effective in ending apartheid or not, the sanctions

imposed on South Africa were an important step in the international fight for civil rights and

should always be viewed as a success.

Since their start, U2 have achieved fame by fighting for civil rights, AIDS victims,

sanctions, and other controversial issues. "Silver and Gold" was written to bring attention to and

change a situation that was inevitably tied to politics and economics. For Bono and the rest of

the band, sanctions against South Africa meant much more than slowing down the trade of South

Africa-it meant freeing the people of that country from exploitation and injustices.


1. Hufbauer, Gary Clyde, et al. US Economic Sanctions: Their Impact on Trade, Jobs, and

Wages. Institute for International Economics, 1997.

2. Stokes, Niall. Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song. Thunder's Mouth

Press, 2001.

3. Bono/Adam Clayton/The Edge/Larry Mullen Jr. "Silver and Gold." Interscope/Island

Records, 1988.