Mandela exhibit celebrates ‘champion of dignity and equality’

Kilmainham Gaol exhibition marking centenary of statesman’s birth runs till January

President Michael D Higgins officially opens the Nelson Mandela exhibition ‘From Prisoner to President’ at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

President Michael D Higgins officially opens the Nelson Mandela exhibition ‘From Prisoner to President’ at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

The President described Nelson Mandela as one of “the greatest champions of human freedom, dignity and equality of the past century” as he opened an exhibition celebrating the late South African statesman and activist on Thursday.

The exhibition at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin marks the centenary of Mandela’s birth and tracks the Irish contribution to the struggle against apartheid, .

Speaking from a podium situated directly under an enormous print of Mandela staring out the windows of his cell on Robben Island, Michael D Higgins noted the significance of having the exhibition in the jail, a place he described as “a symbol not only of defiance and courage but of profound sacrifice”.

He recalled how Mandela, during his first visit to Ireland in 1990 shortly after his release from prison, spoke of how Irish independence had given hope to the people of South Africa.

“We too shall have a country which will, as the great Irish patriots said in the proclamation of 1916, cherish all the children of the nation equally,” said Mr Higgins, quoting the former South African president.

The president applauded the contribution of the Dunnes Stores workers who in 1984 refused to handle produce imported from South Africa, a move he described as a “touchstone moment” in the Irish protest against apartheid.

“The power of their protest and principled stance eventually led the Government of Ireland to ban South African goods from being sold in Ireland, and this ban remained in place until the end of the apartheid regime,” he said, acknowledging the efforts of the “courageous and principled” Mary Manning who was present at the exhibition opening.

Mr Higgins called on international policy makers to follow the example of Mandela in responding to the many challenges of the 21st century including climate change, war, famine and persecution. “These challenges are vast but not overwhelming. They must be met with a sufficiency of courage, conviction, and authenticity - courage, conviction and authenticity equal to that demonstrated by Nelson Mandela.”

The exhibition runs at Kilmainham Gaol until January 12th 2019. Admission is free but booking is required.