Today, members of the Australian Labor Party join with our colleagues in the African National Congress, and the people of South Africa, in mourning the loss of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
The African National Congress, in their statement this morning, said of Mandela:
“The large African Boabab, who loved Africa as much as he loved South Africa, has fallen. Its trunk and seeds will nourish the earth for decades to come.”
Mandela was known throughout South Africa as “Tata Madiba”, an expression drawn from his tribal name and also meaning “father”. This was how he was known to a generation of South Africans who lived through the peaceful transition from apartheid to multi-racial democracy.
His leadership of the anti-apartheid movement, and stewardship of the new South Africa, were an inspiration right around the world, including here in Australia.
Australian Labor played an important role in the global movement to end apartheid. Ordinary party members and unionists joined the campaigns and actions throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Prominent leaders like Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Don Dunstan and Gareth Evans ensured that Labor in government took the lead in imposing sanctions on the Apartheid regime.
The campaign against Apartheid shaped the values and policies of Australian Labor, as much as it had an impact in South Africa.
Former leading member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement here in Australia, Dr Meredith Burgmann, said this morning:
“The ageing radicals of today feel a special connection with Nelson Mandela because the anti-apartheid campaigns were so important to our political development. Mandela was the iconic leader who we looked to and followed. His stature as a leader grew when he was released from prison. He showed enormous strategic sense in the way he dealt with the old apartheid leadership and maintained a clear course for a new democratic South Africa, that included women rights and gay rights at all times.”
When Mandela was released from prison he visited Australia. Tens of thousands turned out to hear him speak in Sydney when he said to the crowd that he could “feel the solidarity of Australians and others for 27 years through thick prison walls”.
Australian Labor was one of only a few parties around the world to give practical assistance to Mandela and the ANC in the 1994 election. Personnel and resources were made available to the ANC by then National Secretary Gary Gray. Assistant National Secretary, Ian Henderson spent months in South Africa helping the campaign.
All members and supporters of Australian Labor can today celebrate the life of a great member of our global movement and should take pride in our contribution to the development of democracy in South Africa. Mandela’s inspiration and legacy will continue to shape our commitment to democratic ideals across the world and to inspire our enduring friendship with the people of South Africa.
Assistant National Secretary
Director, Labor International
Last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ANC, Labor International published a history of the two parties and the history of the Australian Anti-Apartheid Movement. You can purchase a copy of “A Shared History: The ALP, the ANC and the Australian Anti-Apartheid Movement” for $25 dollars here.