Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Madiba - our tribute


Members of Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) have reacted with great sadness at the announcement a couple of hours ago of the death of Nelson Mandela.

“Members and supporters of Rugby TUSC have been collecting their experiences and memories of Nelson Mandela and the fight against one of the most extreme forms of racism – apartheid in South Africa,” TUSC spokesperson Pete McLaren has informed us. “I set the ball rolling by describing how I watched the film 'Cry Freedom' with our then nine year old daughter Karla, and I think she was moved to tears even more than I was at the death of Steven Biko and the actions of the repressive anti apartheid regime. It certainly helped form her political views. I also went to the Wembley concerts in 1988 and 1990, the first organised in support of Mandela's release from prison, the second just after his release when it was so moving to be part of the audience, all 80,000 of whom gave him an 8 minute standing ovation before he spoke.”

Julie Weekes, Rugby TUSC Treasurer, and Trade Union Studies lecturer, told me about her memories. “The whole labour movement in the 1970’s challenged apartheid. We even ran special courses on it for union reps. I remember taking part in lots of pickets outside the SA embassy in Trafalgar Square and going to pop concerts too to raise awareness and then later to celebrate his release. I was also lucky enough to hear him speak in Birmingham when he visited.”

Local supporter Gerry White added, “Always having been active supporters of the anti-apartheid movement, my sister and I went to South Africa to celebrate her 50th birthday and to see for ourselves the changes that Mandela's recent election victory had brought about. There was a wonderful feeling of optimism everywhere we went in Cape Town, Jo'burg, Pretoria and the rural Eastern Cape. Our most moving moment was when we stood on the very spot at the parliament buildings in Pretoria where Mandela had so recently taken his oath as President! We probably will never see his like again - a great fighter for freedom as well as a great person.”

In his summary, Pete McLaren said “As socialists we have all consistently supported Nelson Mandela as a freedom fighter, but it will be interesting to hear what kinds of sentimental hypocrisy come from the Tory leadership when it is doubtful any of them supported Mandela during his imprisonment. Some were members of the Federation of Conservative Students, which produced "Hang Mandela" posters in 1985. David Cameron, in 1989, as a rising star of the Conservative Research Department, accepted an all expenses paid trip to South Africa funded by an anti-sanctions lobby firm whilst Nelson Mandela remained imprisoned by the Apartheid regime. This was described at the time as a ‘sanctions busting jolly.’ The Thatcher government of the day had opposed placing sanctions on the racist regime, with Thatcher, Cameron’s political heroine, calling Mandela’s Party, the ANC, ‘a typical terrorist organization.’ Let’s see what Tory MPs have to say today,” he concluded.

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