Date Released: 10 December 2013
The courageous Dunnes Stores workers whose strike in 1984 highlighted the inhumanity and injustice of apartheid will be present to witness the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa later this week. Three of the former strikers, Mary Manning, Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon flew from Dublin on Sunday and will join President Michael D Higgins and other world leaders at the memorial service for the admired freedom fighter and statesman in the football stadium near Soweto on Tuesday (10th December). The other former Dunnes Stores workers will travel to South Africa on Wednesday and will be present when ‘Madiba’ is laid to rest in his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province on Sunday (15th December).
Speaking to Liberty before she left for Johannesburg, Mary Manning told Liberty that she was very proud that she and her co-workers had done the ‘right thing’ when her refusal to handle South African oranges in July 1984 led to her suspension from the Henry Street branch of the retailer. She was joined by her ten colleagues on the picket which lasted for two years and ten months and eventually led to a Government decision to ban all South African produce from Ireland. The dispute brought the horrors of apartheid to a wider audience and provided an important boost to the imprisoned Mandela and the African National Congress in their freedom struggle “At the time we were on strike a lot of people were against it and did not understand why we were on the picket line. When you see what happened since it gives me a sense of pride that we did the right thing,” Mary Manning told Liberty.
Within months of his release from jail after 27 years, in February 1990, Mandela travelled to Ireland and met the former strikers although Manning was not present as she was working in Australia at the time. Previously she and her colleagues, as well as union official, Brendan Archbold, were prevented from entering South Africa when they travelled there in 1985.
“He said on a number of occasions that the Dunnes Stores dispute was something he never forgot. Even though he had been ill it was still very sad to hear the news of his passing. He is such an icon. There has been no one like him. He came out of prison so dignified and without bitterness. I was living in Australia when he came to Ireland and was not present when he met the other women,” she said.
The former Dunnes workers are expected to meet Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore and leaders of Cosatu, (Congress of South African Trade Unions) during their visit which was financed by Mandate and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Among the world leaders who will be present for the memorial service will be Barack Obama, and three former US presidents, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter along with British prime minister, David Cameron. The Cuban president, Raul Castro, and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, will also be among the dignatories although Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he would not attend for cost reasons.
Many of the millions from all over the world watching the funeral of the father of the nation, the former South African president and ANC leader will also be hoping that some of those leaders who paid such effusive tributes to Madiba might try to practise what he preached.
Up to his recent illness and death at 95, Mandela railed against global poverty and inequality and the the appalling treatment of the Palestinian people which he described as “the greatest moral issue of our time.”