The Global Citizen festival. Picture: MASI LOSI
The Global Citizen festival. Picture: MASI LOSI

The eagerly awaited Global Citizen Festival started on Sunday in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary. In a packed FNB Stadium the performances were met with cheers as the 70,000 attendees sang along. Cries of "Amandla! Awethu!" reverberated through the stadium in response to the many calls to action for a better world.

The event lived up to expectations — tears streamed for Ed Sheeran, pride swelled for Cassper Nyovest and hysteria set in for Beyoncé.

The day started before noon for most people, in a line that snaked around the block as the stadium slowly filled. Security was tight at the start, but as the VIPs left and Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s set ended, it fizzled.

Global Citizen’s goal was simple, Usher, Tyler Perry and Oprah told the audience: end poverty in our lifetime and take action. "The change starts with you," they urged.

But at the end of the night, SA’s stark reality of poor security and violent crime against a backdrop of poverty, inequality and unemployment could not be masked by messages of "endless love", long-winded calls to action or reminders of Mandela’s legacy.

As the lights were switched on, exhausted concert-goers filed out of the stadium. But with no planning, no phone signal and no way out, panic set in.

In desperation, people headed to the Sasol garage — the only spot Uber, which had upped its prices, could get to if you managed to get signal. The night ended with screams for help and stampeding as groups of thugs wielding knives and guns terrorised concert-goers.

Police were scarce and security nowhere in sight. The stringent checks at the start of the day were gone.

The earlier rhetoric about gender equality — feminist icons to the fore, celebrities and presidents rattling off figures about inequality — seemed an illusion.

The foremost targets early Monday morning were women. In the aftermath, Uber promised to pay customers back and the police popped up to say they’d made several arrests.

But the trauma of trying to get home has lingered for many. Perhaps the loudest message from Global Citizen is that talk is cheap.