Nelson Mandela gave his backing today to a music-led campaign aimed at raising awareness of the devastating impact of Aids in Africa.
Bono and Beyoncé will headline a massive concert next month to highlight the devastating impact of Aids.
The former South African president joined celebrities from the music world in London to launch 46664, Give 1 Minute Of Your Life To Aids, an awareness and fundraising campaign which uses his prison number on Robben Island.
Under the worldwide initiative, people are being urged to ring phone lines on which they can hear a celebrity message and songs recorded by top artists which have not been released before.
In the UK all telephone users can call a premium line using the number 09060 1 46664 at a cost of £1 a minute.
Callers will be logged as having given their support to a petition calling on governments to declare a global Aids emergency.
Mr Mandela, speaking at a central London press conference, said Aids was a tragedy of “unprecedented proportions” unfolding in Africa.
He said: “No longer is Aids just a disease – it is a human rights issue. For the sake of Africa and the world we must act and act now, and to raise funds to help those affected by Aids and raise awareness to help to prevent the further spread of HIV.”
He added: “46664 was my prison number for over 18 years when I was in prison on Robben Island. I was known as just a number. Millions of people today infected with Aids are just that – a number.
“They too are serving a prison sentence for life, that is why for the first time I am allowing my prison number, 46664, to brand this campaign.”
The first track 46664 (Long Walk To Freedom) written by Bono, ex-Eurythmics star Dave Stewart and the late Clash star Joe Strummer, and performed by Bono, Youssou N'Dour, Abdel and Dave Stewart, is released today by the campaign.
In a music industry first, it will only be available throughout the world via telephone lines and then subsequently on the web at www.46664.com.
The organisers said they would be releasing more songs on to the phone lines in the coming weeks for callers to listen to.
The fundraising element of the campaign will vary from country to country, with the Nelson Mandela Foundation benefiting. The Foundation’s work includes funding research on HIV and Aids in South Africa and supporting services for sufferers.
A massive concert will be staged at Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town on November 29, which will be broadcast free to hundreds of millions around the world via TV, webcast and radio.
Highlights will be premiered on MTV channels around the world on World Aids Day on December 1.
The 46664 campaign was conceived by Dave Stewart and put into place in partnership with the Mandela Foundation and Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen.
Artists who have agreed to take part in the Cape Town concert include Beyonce, Bono, The Corrs and Ms Dynamite. A number of celebrities attended the launch today, including Ms Dynamite, Brian May and Dave Stewart.
Mr May said: “The reason we got involved is that not enough is being done. Our message is, spread the word.
“It’s only partly about making money for the cause, although that will help.”
Dave Stewart said: “We have a wonderful opportunity to raise money through global telephone networks. It’s so simple. When you dial the number, you will be answered by anybody from Robert De Niro to Nelson Mandela to Bono or whoever.
“They will then give you a message thanking you for dialling 46664 and donating a minute of your life to stop AIDS.
“Then you will hear a brand new song that has never been heard before, written by Bono, myself, Queen and other writers and performed by a host of artists from Beyonce to Chad and many, many more.”
The organisers have said they hope to achieve an audience of two billion people around the world to watch the Cape Town concert.