Roger Taylor admits that Queen’s cultural boycott-breaking trip to apartheid-era South Africa was ‘a mistake’

Queen's Roger Taylor
(Image credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns)

Queen's Roger Taylor reflects on the band's infamous performance at South Africa's Sun City during the cultural boycott of the country's apartheid era. 

As a group, the band have always taken an apolitical stance, which was pushed by their late frontman Freddie Mercury. Speaking to MusicRadar earlier this year about his new solo album, Outsider, Taylor discussed Queen's refrain from writing political songs. "That wasn’t something we really did as a band. It was a conscious choice" he explained. "Right at the start – and you’ve got to remember that there was a lot of hardcore political stuff going on in the ‘70s – Freddie said, ‘Look, I don’t want to get involved in all that. I want to go round the world playing songs that people can enjoy."

However, their anti-political nature has backfired on them in the past, most notably in 1984, when they were booked to play nine shows in the Las Vegas-style Sun City during South Africa's apartheid period. Their visit was viewed poorly, and the band was chastised by the United Nations and UK Musicians Union for breaking the cultural boycott. They were additionally shamed by ‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt’s all-star supergoup Artists United Against Apartheid on their 1985 hit single Sun City.

For many years after, Queen defended their right to perform at the run of shows, while stating that their intentions behind playing to racially mixed crowds were honourable. They also believed the performances might have even helped hurry the end of apartheid.

Now, in a recent interview decades after the event, Queen's Roger Taylor has changed his perspective, and thinks that with his new-found hindsight, their appearance was most likely a "mistake".

“Oh shit, did we get grief for that,” he sighs. “Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow. They didn’t get any stick, but we did.

"We went with the best possible intentions, actually. We didn’t make any money out of it. I remember Brian went to award some of the prizes at the Soweto festival. We went with the best intentions, but I still think it was kind of a mistake.”

You can read the full interview in the latest issue of Classic Rock, out now. It's an end of year review, looking back on everything from the best albums of the year to the best reissues. It also includes conversations with the artists who ensured that rock kept rolling throughout 2021. Plus, it arrives with two free gifts: a 2022 Rock Icons wall calendar, and a classic rock colouring book featuring Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and more. 

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.