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Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela – Freedom Fighter, political prisoner, healer, peacemaker and father

10 December, 2013 - by Gerry Adams TD


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD speaking in the Dáil this evening on the death of Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela said: “Madiba was a leader who by his courage demonstrated that it is possible to reconcile differences.

“By his example he showed us that it is possible to build peace out of conflict; something we try to do in our own island; and that a better and more equal future based on fairness is possible, and that unity can be forged out of division.”

The Sinn Féin leader who will be travelling to South Africa tomorrow for the funeral of Madiba reminded the Dáil of the close relationship between Irish republicans and the ANC.

He said:

“In jail for those decades, on Robben Island, Madiba maintained his international perspective.

“In his cell, in common with all political prisoners, he was allowed as a privilege a calendar on which he marked significant events.

“On the 5th May 1981 a simple single line is written: ‘IRA martyr Bobby Sands dies.’

“A tribute, hand written, on a paper calendar on a cell wall in South Africa which recognises the bond of those who struggle for justice.

“His note on that prison wall is recognition of the courage and self-sacrifice of the 10 republican hunger strikers of our time.

“Walter Sisulu later told me that all of the ANC prisoners marked and commemorated each of the hunger strikers who died, including Kieran Doherty TD.”

ENDS

The full text of Deputy Adams' speech is provided below.

“Ba mhaith liom mo chombhrón a thabhairt do chlann an iar-Uachtarán Mandela, Uachtarán Zuma, daoine ón Aifric Theas, agus pobal na hAfraice in Éirinn.

Taoiseach, Nelson Mandela ‘Madiba’ was truly remarkable.

He was a Freedom Fighter, a political prisoner, a negotiator, a healer, a peacemaker, a father, a grandfather and a husband.

He was a friend to those engaged in the struggle for justice across the globe.

He believed in Ubuntu (we are all interconnected and a person cannot exist separate from society; we all have responsibilities to each other).

He was a friend to the people of Ireland and many people here were his friends, particularly the heroic Dunness Store strikers who took a stand when those in power did not.

The injustice of apartheid was an obscenity – an obscenity to humanity – and in terms of our own experience Vorster – an apartheid Minister in South Africa once said famously that he would swap all of the apartheid laws for one clause of the infamous Special Powers Act in the north.

The ANC was banned, censored and political actions were quashed.

In the 1950’s and early 60’s ANC activists debated how best to challenge the state.

Speaking of that period, Mandela said, ‘We have always believed in non-violence as a tactic; where conditions demanded that we should use non-violence we would do so; where the conditions demanded that we should depart from non-violence we would do so.’

He came to the opinion that the ANC "had no alternative to armed and violent resistance.” His words not mine.

In 1961 along with Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo, Madiba co-founded and became Chairman of the armed organisation Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), known as MK.

MK engaged in military actions against the South African regime through the period of his imprisonment and following his release.

And in jail for those decades, on Robben Island, Madiba maintained his international perspective.

In his cell, in common with all political prisoners, he was allowed as a privilege a calendar on which he marked significant events.

On the 5th May 1981 a simple single line is written: ‘IRA martyr Bobby Sands dies.’

A tribute, hand written, on a paper calendar on a cell wall in South Africa which recognises the bond of those who struggle for justice.

His note on that prison wall is a recognition of the courage and self-sacrifice of the 10 republican hunger strikers of our time.

Walter Sisulu later told me that all of the ANC prisoners marked and commemorated each of the hunger strikers who died, including Kieran Doherty TD.

Today the world is in mourning.

The people of South Africa have lost their leader, their father and humanity has lost our greatest statesman.

Madiba was a leader who by his courage demonstrated that it is possible to reconcile differences.

By his example he showed us that it is possible to build peace out of conflict; something we try to do in our own island; and that a better and more equal future based on fairness is possible, and that unity can be forged out of division.

In the hard years when the western powers were against him, when he was vilified as a terrorist; when he was denounced as a criminal, he kept the faith.

He showed perseverance and vision.

There are lessons in all of this for us but particularly for the people of the island of Ireland, of all persuasions, as we continue the necessary and challenging task of building the peace.

I first saw Nelson Mandela when he visited Dublin in 1990.

That was the day the Irish soccer team returned home. And when Madiba appeared a section of the crowd began to chant 'Ooh ahh Paul Mc Grath's Da'.

So, the good humour of Ireland shone through.

In 1995 myself, and several other Sinn Féin activists travelled to South Africa at the invitation of the ANC to speak to senior figures who had been centrally involved in the process of negotiations.

That was when I met Madiba for the first time.

One of the first demonstrations I ever attended was in Dublin against apartheid and the visit of the Springbok Rugby team. And I have been a long-time supporter of the Anti-apartheid movement.

So I was delighted to be meeting with one of my heroes.

During the conflict there was a close working relationship between Irish republicans and the ANC.

And the late Kader Asmal who did tremendous work in the leadership of the Irish anti-apartheid movement, along with his wife Louise, and who was not a supporter of the IRA in his book mentioned by Minister Burton, tells how the IRA provided practical training and advice and assistance with military operations to MK.

Kader says that the famous attack of May 31st 1980 on Sasal Oil Refinery near J’Burg was carried out with the assistance of the Irish Republican Army.

Walter Sisulu, Cyril Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki, Ronnie Kasrils and many others who were in the leadership of the ANC were pleased to remember the long commitment, as was Madiba himself, of Irish republicans to their cause.

And of course for our group the highlight of the very intense process of meetings was with Madiba.

He was self-effacing, he was modest, he was totally relaxed and he was very focused.

He was also very tough, stubborn, determined and committed as he needed to be to survive apartheid; to survive over two and a half decades in prison with hard labour.

He was immovable on core principles, on core values, on core issues but pragmatic on tactics and other matters.

It is also interesting that the British government at the time lobbied hard for Madiba not to meet me.

And when it was clear that the ANC was determined and Madiba was determined that the visit should go ahead the British lobbied for no handshake or photograph.

He ignored them.

So, I along with other Sinn Féin representatives have been privileged and deeply honoured to meet Madiba many times after that; in South Africa, here in Ireland and Britain.

Ba pribhiléid mór é dom gur bhuail mé leis cúpla uair.

He was always hugely supportive of the Irish peace process.

On several occasions senior ANC and former MK activists visited Ireland and went into the prisons and talked to republican prisoners about the peace process.

He had an enormous depth of understanding of the twists and turns of our process.

And he knew there was an onus on governments, as well as those involved in struggle, to resolve issues.

I believe as all thinking people believe that there is an onus “to create the necessary environment for peaceful solutions.”

Despite his age and even when I last met with him, despite his increased physical frailty his mind was as sharp as a razor; conversant with world affairs and with the affairs of his own continent, with for example the injustice of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

He was a very remarkable human being.

I mo thuairim ba é Nelson Mandela ceann de na ceannairí is fearr a raibh riamh ann. 'Sé mo laoch. Mo Ghile Mear.

All of us remember the very special occasion of the Special Olympics that were held here in 2003.

It was such a marvellous, wonderful historic event and we met afterwards and Madiba was taken by all of the young athletes that he had met in the course of that great event as he was about issues to do with the north, and the need for governments to move on the necessary business of building peace.

He will continue to inspire. He will continue in death as he did while alive to encourage oppressed peoples everywhere.

And in that way his legacy will live on.

You don’t have to be a Nelson Mandela, you don’t have to be a Madiba, we only have to do the small things we can do to make things better for those who suffer from injustice, for those who are deprived, for those who don’t have freedom.

If we all did that in a small way then those heroes like he would not have to do the big things that they have had to do.

Walter Sisulu was a wonderful man. A life long conspirator, political prisoner, and comrade to Nelson Mandela and when he died – any of you have the time you should read Mandela’s farewell – and I repeat just one line of it for this occasion.

Go well, Rest in Peace, Madiba Hero among heroes.

Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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