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Let us salute our great friend Nelson Mandela - Pat Sheehan

8 February, 2014 - by Pat Sheehan

Speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Wexford tonight, former hunger striker and Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan pays tribute to Nelson Mandela

"A chairde, last year saw the passing of our great friend and comrade, the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Thar cheann an Árd Fhéis seo bá maith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Mandela, lena comradaithe san ANC agus le muintir an Afraic Theas.

On behalf of this Árd Fhéis I want to send our condolences to the Mandela family, to his comrades in the ANC and to the people of South Africa.

Madiba was a remarkable human being.  He was loved and revered not just by his own family and compatriots in South Africa but by millions throughout the world for whom he was a beacon of light and a symbol of hope.  He was also an inspiration for many in their struggles against oppression and injustice.

In 2001 I went to South Africa along with Gerry and Richard and my late wife Siobhán and son Cormac to unveil a monument in the prison yard on Robben Island to commemorate the shared suffering of Irish and South African political prisoners.  But the highlight of that trip was our meeting with Madiba in Jo'burg.

Without a doubt many nations, groups and individuals throughout the world believe they had a special relationship with Madiba.

Perhaps it is because of the great loyalty Madiba showed to those friends and comrades from the international community who gave support and solidarity to the South African people during their struggle against apartheid that they felt a special bond with him.

We in Ireland certainly felt we had a great affinity with Madiba and South Africa.  Indeed Irish republicans have a long association with the ANC going back many decades.  We supported each other in struggle and in our respective efforts to achieve peace.

We know now that the IRA provided practical training, advice and assistance with military operations to MK, Umkhonto we Siswe, the military wing of the ANC that had been founded by Mandela in 1961 along with Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo.

In fact one of the biggest operations ever carried out by MK - the famous attack in May 1980 on the Sasal oil refinery near Johannesburg - was carried out with the assistance of volunteers from the Irish Republican Army.

So Madiba and others in the ANC leadership were and are hugely supportive of the endeavours of Irish republicans.

It was right and fitting therefore that Sinn Féin was represented at Madiba's funeral by our own leader Gerry Adams.  And it was a great honour for all of us when Gerry was invited by the ANC to be part of the guard of honour.

At the funeral service Madiba's great friend and comrade Ahmed Kathrada told the mourners that Madiba's abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world.

Madiba may be gone but for all of those reasons his legacy will survive for decades and centuries to come.  He will continue to inspire and motivate freedom-loving people in every corner of this planet.

Let us remember our friend in the many and varied roles he fulfilled during his lifetime.  He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, a friend, a comrade, a healer, a negotiator, a peace builder, a freedom fighter, a political prisoner, a statesman and a hero.

Ní bheidh a leithid ann arís.

His life was filled with hardship and tragedy but also with joy and happiness.  He recalls one of those joyous moments in Long Walk to Freedom - the day he was released from prison.  He describes walking the last few yards to freedom to meet the large crowd waiting for him:

 "When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist, and there was a roar.  I had not been able to do that for twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy . . . I felt - even at the age of seventy- one - that my life was beginning anew."

Comrades let us salute our great friend with the rallying cry from the days of resistance.


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