/ 18 June 2008

Ireland marks landmark anti-apartheid strike

Ireland paid tribute on Wednesday to a group of Irish shop workers who staged a landmark two-and-a-half-year long anti-apartheid strike in the 1980s.

In 1984, 11 staff members at Dunnes supermarket in the centre of Dublin, led by Mary Manning, refused to work and picketed in support of trade union Mandate’s policy of boycotting South African products.

Their picket, which was reported worldwide, only ended when the government agreed to ban the import of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was over.

The strike was one of the longest in Irish union history, and their action was honoured with a plaque presented to Manning by South African President Thabo Mbeki, and unveiled on Wednesday by Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.

“We are proud that Ireland, through the personal courage of people like Mary Manning, was able to make a small but telling contribution towards making profound change happen,” he said.

When Manning spoke out against apartheid 24 years ago her stance was not universally welcomed.

“Today Ireland looks back with pride at her unshakeable belief in her principles and recognises the courage with which she stood up for these principles,” the minister said.

“Courageous defenders of human rights are still needed throughout the world, including in Africa – people who remain determined to speak out against injustice, against oppression, and against the denial of human dignity, in circumstances which are often very difficult, as they are today in Zimbabwe.”

The dispute received worldwide publicity and the strikers were met by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African president Nelson Mandela.

A street has been named after Manning in Johannesburg.

Former leading member of Ireland’s anti-apartheid movement Professor Kader Asmal, who later became a South African minister, and South African ambassador Priscilla Jana attended the unveiling. — AFP