In 1988, Belafonte helped organize an event that proved pivotal in the fight against white supremacy in South Africa: He hosted a musical celebration of the 70th birthday of then-imprisoned African National Congress leader, Nelson Mandela, at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Afterward, Belafonte appeared on British TV’s Channel Four.
"No event in history that I know of has ever taken place such as this," he said, "where artists, regardless of ideology and regardless of other persuasions, came together in a unified way, to make a statement about the conditions of a fellow human being and fellow human beings."
Barely 18 months after that recording, the apartheid government freed Mandela in 1990. That paved the way to South Africa’s first democratic polls in 1994, which resulted in Mandela’s election as president.
Belafonte also released an album with South African artists about the plight of citizens living under apartheid called "Paradise in Gazankulu."
Sipho Sithole, anthropologist and member of South Africa’s National Arts Council, met Belafonte on several occasions, sometimes in the presence of Mandela, who had formed a close friendship with the American performer.
Sithole said, "you would think that Harry Belafonte, having been born in America in 1927 born to Jamaican parents with Scottish and Jewish blood, probably would’ve been just another artist in America..." but, Sithole said, Belafonte’s music was special to millions of Black South Africans because of his activism, and because the white nationalist government didn’t like it.
"When we were growing up in the 1980s," Sithole said, "We hid the album (Belafonte) did with (South African singer) Miriam Makeba, because it was banned; I remember I had a cassette of that."
Belafonte mentored South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba helping introduce her to American audiences. The two won a Grammy in the 1960's for the concert record "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba."
Sithole said Black South Africans recognized Belafonte as a person who understood what they were enduring.
"Remember," he said, "that he grows up at the height of the civil rights movement. I don’t think I would have loved to have been growing up in America in the '60s. It was tough for Black people." Sithole said.
"So, the suffering of Black people was with him; he knew this very well because he had lived it. He came out of that system and became who he was, and I was lucky that I met him here in South Africa," he added.
Sithole is petitioning the government to award Belafonte the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa’s highest honor for contributions to arts and culture.
Sithole said Belafonte died and activists, a singer, actor, composer, "and he died a philanthropist and someone who was not hesitant to speak and lend a hand."
"That’s what we say to young people in South Africa: As you get this fame, we don’t want you to start bragging about driving a Bugatti; use the power, the influence you have, to change people’s lives," he said.
This week, South Africa celebrated Freedom Day and the 29th anniversary of its first democratic elections. President Cyril Ramaphosa called Belafonte "a hero and true friend of South Africa" for sustaining the United Nations-led cultural boycott against apartheid.
Harry Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in 1927, in Harlem, United States.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and NBC News.