Mandela’s legacy a challenge for leaders, says Eamon Gilmore
Tánaiste says Soweto service will be an ‘opportunity for world leaders to reflect on what we need to do to carry forward his ideals’
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore : “Apartheid was an issue in Ireland, Mandela was aware of it. He was also aware of Ireland’s own political struggle . . .” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Mr Gilmore will represent the Government at the service, which is to take place in the 96,000-seat FNB Stadium near Soweto. Ireland will be represented by President Michael D Higgins who will attend with his wife, Sabina.
Mr Gilmore expects the ceremony, which is due to start at 11am local time, will be lengthy and memorable.
“It will be a unique event where political leaders and former political leaders from all over the world will assemble to pay tribute to this wonderful man and what he stands for,” he said.
“But it is also an opportunity for world leaders to reflect on what we need to do now to carry forward Mandela’s ideals and his ambitions. There are still 800 million people that are hungry in the world.”
Reflecting on Mr Mandela’s global appeal, Mr Gilmore said there was simply no one else like him in the world.
“He is probably the most iconic figure of our lifetime,” said the Tánaiste. “Here is a heroic figure about whom literally nobody has a bad word to say. He has commanded respect in every part of the world, across every country.
“I think that respect is for the suffering that he endured personally and the sacrifices that he made in the struggle against apartheid, the role that he played in negotiating the transition in South Africa from the apartheid regime to democracy. The fact also that he was of course the first democratically elected president of all of South Africa. And then when he retired he continued to work for reconciliation, for resolution of conflicts and to work in the struggle against hunger and poverty.”
Mr Mandela’s particular appeal in Ireland is underscored by the presence in Johannesburg of three of the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strikers, whom Mr Mandela visited shortly after his release from prison. Mr Gilmore said ties between Ireland and South Africa were strong also because of the role of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1970s.
“Ireland had a very active anti-apartheid movement, in large part due to the work of Kader and Louise Asmal. Apartheid was an issue in Ireland, Mandela was aware of it. He was also aware of Ireland’s own political struggle, he was aware of Irish independence and I think it was significant that he came to Ireland so soon after his released from prison.”
The Tánaiste was in the Dáil for the former president’s address in July 1990, which he thought was extraordinary because of its content and timing.
He said: “The apartheid regime was still in force . . . It would be another four years before he was elected president of South Africa. And yet he quoted Yeats: ‘Too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart.’ He talked about how the oppressed should never take on the barbarity of the oppressor. He talked about reconciliation.
“What I find amazing about it was that he was talking about reconciliation before the settlement had been concluded. The reconciliation tends to come after you have settled. He was talking about reconciliation and making peace and talking about a South Africa which would be a South Africa of all of the people.
“And that’s been one of the great successes of South Africa: it did not switch white domination for black domination. It is a genuinely democratic place.”