Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our march to freedom is irreversible

Feb 11th 10

“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait… Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

These are some of the historic words Nelson Mandela spoke to a jubilant crowd of tens of thousands in his first public address to the people of South Africa, and of the world, in Cape Town several hours after his release from prison.

20 years ago today Madiba stepped out of Victor-Verster prison in Paarl. Like millions of others around the world this Blog watched his long walk away from those gates with his wife Winnie. It was a hugely emotional moment as the two walked hand in hand through throngs of people cheering and clapping his release after 27 years of imprisonment. This Blog sat alone, weeping and applauding and cheering with pride and delight.

And several hours later when Mandela stood on the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall he set out his objectives clearly – freedom and democracy and “to unite the people of our country.”

It was a great moment for the people of South Africa and for freedom loving people everywhere. The dawn of a new era for a country carved out by violence from that part of Africa by European colonial powers. A country where a white minority had taken absolute political power over the majority.

The years of apartheid were horrific. The oppression and discrimination and violence of the state resulted in decades of conflict, misery, and poverty for the vast majority of South Africa’s citizens.

The struggle of the ANC and of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK – Spear of the Nation), along with the international anti-apartheid campaign had finally brought the National Party to the negotiation table. But Madiba and the ANC knew that they were simply entering another phase of struggle.

Later when I visited South Africa for the first time in 1995, the year after Madiba was elected President, I spoke and listened at length to many in the ANC leadership, as well some in the National Party and on the right wing. The National Party people freely admitted that they had not seen the release of Mandela as the beginning of a handover of power to the majority.

They thought that the ANC would be too divided, its leadership too indisciplined, to effectively negotiate. They envisioned a process that would take decades. And that was one of many mistakes they made. They underestimated the ability of Madiba and Cyril Ramaphosa and Joe Slovo and countless others in the ANC leadership and within a few short years Madiba was President of a free South Africa.

Of all the political leaderships I had met up to then and since, never have I met a group as cohesive, articulate and far-seeing as those in that ANC leadership.

This Blog has had the great fortune to meet Madiba many times in the two decades since his release. Sometimes in South Africa, occasionally in London, and once in Dublin when he attended the Special Olympics.

On that first visit in June 1995 the British Government and sections of its media were outraged that he would meet with a delegation of Shinners. When it became clear that Madiba would not be swayed and intended to meet us privately and at a press conference, they demanded that there should be no handshake!

Consequently, when we met him in his outer office at the ANC headquarters at Shell House in Jo’burg, Madiba’s face lit up and as we shook hands he grinned mischievously, “Ah, comrade Gerry, I’ll not wash my hand for a week.”

That day we spent several hours talking to him. He recalled how on a visit to Ireland three years earlier and at a time when the British were secretly talking to republicans, he had called for talks between the British and Irish republicans and how sections of the British and Irish media had condemned him for this.

He came to Ireland that time to receive the honour of the freedom of Dublin City. Our Gearoid and I travelled to be there. The Irish soccer team was coming home that day as well and Dublin Airport was thronged with fans. When Mandela appeared at the terminus he was greeted with loud and prolonged appaluse and the chant:

‘Oh ah Paul McGrath’s Da,
Oh ah Paul McGrath’s Da’.

I’m sure Madiba enjoyed the fun in that.

In all my conversations with him I have found him good humoured, relaxed, warm and deeply interested in events in Ireland. He is one of my heroes.I believe him to be the greatest political leader of our times.


Linda Coleman said...

What's really amazing about Mandela is that he came through imprisonment without any bitterness. He really is an inspiration to activists everywhere.

Unbelievable that the British Government had the nerve to tell him who to shake hands with, after all he'd been through already. Would love to know exactly how he told them he would "not be swayed."

Micheal said...

Yes Gerry, I always supported democracy for South Africa also and I was delighted for Mandella and the ANC when they eventually won that fight.

Major international political institutions such as the EU, the UN, and many Nation States are often prepared to collude with the subversion of democratic principles
in order to avoid coming into conflict with anti-democratic regimes.

The partition of Ireland is, in my view, another form of Apartheid, which, is also destructive and abhorrent, and reflective of a cloud of moral iniquity that still hangs over the current structure of world politics today.

I very much appreciate Sinn Fein's efforts, under your presidency, to end this unacceptable injustice through the use of a variety of creative and progressive political initiatives and political activism.

Timothy Dougherty said...

Good read Gerry , so nice for you sharing the experience with us. Nelson Mandela is a great teacher,of how to live and how to be right. Some lands do need Heros , from time to time, and the great Mandela is one. The Politics of Irish Freedom,have like South Africa’s citizens, the development of the "stages" theory of progressive democratisation. This was conditional in the first place on the state and it supporters being willing to redress the state's own injustices.You could not free the Irish people only create condition so that they could free themselves. A wonderful post Gerry,Thanks

Anonymous said...

And how far on is the ordinary poor man in the street stil living in slums, in some of the most dangerous streets in the world? hwo has the great man helped them? Now they are FREE to live in crushing poverty the only thing changed for them is the colour of their masters skin!

Paul Doran said...


Unfortunately a lot of the so called Comrades, Mbeki for one sold their people out to the Neo Liberals and give away many State enterprises to private enterprise for what price I asked.Many so called comrades have got on the gravy train and forgot whence they come from.

Freedom has been won. But the people suffer.Why oh why didn't they look to Cuba for example.

There is a long way to Go.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela

Anonymous said...

keep up the excellent work gerry,your persistance amazes us all.........charlie DERRY

A big shot is just a little shot who kept on shooting.
--Zig Ziglar

Consider these words of Calvin Coolidge: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is filled with educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent. 'Press on!' has been and always will be the answer to every human problem."

Coolidge was right. In the successful pursuit of a vision, persistence always makes the difference. Colonel Sanders approached 1,094 restaurants before he found someone who would try his recipe for fried chicken. Thomas Edison made over 2,000 attempts before he invented the light bulb. Abraham Lincoln failed in two businesses and lost five elections before he became president.

The ability to persevere in the face of adversity takes a special kind of faith. It's easy to get discouraged when obstacles appear. If you are in such a situation, know that time is on your side. Time plus sustained effort always produce results. After waiting 33 years to win the world championship, a coach was asked, "Was it worth the wait?" "Absolutely," he replied. "In fact, the long delay actually made the victory sweeter."

Anonymous said...

Is it only people that agree with you that are allowed to post on here Gerry? Will you publish my comment?

Anonymous said...

What about all the murders and rapes in South Africa, especially of white people and the fact a white South African was given asylum in Canada because of the danger to his life? I doubt you will publish this comment and you certainly won't reply to it.

Linda Coleman said...

I thought you'd like to see this, Gerry, from ABC News:

It's an interview with Mandela's jailer, Christo Brand, about how the two of them became the unlikeliest of friends.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said challenges Gerry to reply to his comment about the problems facing south africa today almost as if they are his fault! He also sets his comment in the context of rapes and assaults of white people! Everyone knows that there is a huige crime problem in South Africa and from what I have read it doesn't distinguis between white and black or Asian or any other colour.
I have been to South Africa. Post Apartheid South Africa is a much much better place than before Mandela's release and the peace process there. Do they have enormous problems - damn right they have. What nation wouldn't have if they had SA's history of colonisation and apartheid.
Like the peace process in Ireland and the goal of achieving Irish unity effecting change takes time. Achieving objectives that have been two hundred or 800 years in the making won't happen overnight or even in one generation.
Mandela and those around him charted a course to freedom. Now it is for others to use that hard won right to build a better and more equitable society.

Anonymous said...

Like South Africa, the six counties, we are engaged in achieving the national democratic revolution. This is why the SACP remains in coalition with the ANC. The ANC was not a socialist organisation, but after national revolution the next stage is socialism.

We have similar questions to ask in the North, but we still need to achieve national unity.