|[Picture: Nelson Mandela with former SUA Secretary Pat Geraghty]|
Nelson Mandela will be remembered and celebrated for his leadership of the movement to bring justice and freedom to the people of South Africa. And in doing that captured the hopes and aspirations of all human beings seeking or protecting those values. He made an indelible mark on the history of the world because of the way in which he pursued the liberation of his people and all peoples.
He was steadfast in holding to a moral vision in the face of the use of structured and institutionalised oppression and brutality to maintain a political outcome. His courage in leadership and determination in advocacy meant he personally felt the brunt through persecution, both physical and emotional, and incarceration for decades. His humanity and compassion even for his gaolers is legendary and he harnessed the determination and steadfastness of his anti-apartheid brothers and sisters into an extraordinary example of human liberation regardless of the material circumstances. His imprisonment became a rallying cry for international solidarity for a political remedy to the racist and political extremism of apartheid.
When he walked through the prison gates that had denied him his freedom for 27 years, his mission was one of reconciliation, not revenge, a further act of extraordinary wisdom and generosity.
It was, in many ways, his post-imprisonment life that cemented Nelson Mandela’s global legacy because of the blood not spilled, the violence avoided and the roots of healing that sprung from the ashes of a failed and corrupted regime.
The long history of international embargoes and sanctions forged bonds of friendship and solidarity when the African National Congress was fighting for liberation in exile. Seafarers and dockers, and their branches and locals around Australia, collected material support of medicine, clothing and food to ship to the fighters against apartheid, and were at the hub of the international support network that included Trade Unions from both the ICFTU and WFTU international affiliations.
Again, the role of the ITF was critical in this international leadership due, in particular, to the effectiveness of the Flag of Convenience campaign and the enormous reliance South Africa had on its seagoing assets.
Australia’s maritime workers were honoured to be a part of the anti-apartheid movement as part of a global coalition called the Maritime Unions Against Apartheid. The Seamen’s Union of Australia and the Waterside Workers Federation were part of a national and international campaign of opposition including sanctions for many decades.
Together with Maritime unions around the world, buttressed by broader political and industrial support, the ITF and individual leaders such Harold Lewis from the ITF, Pat Geraghty from the SUA, Tas Bull from the WWF and Jim Slater from the NUS formed and delivered the effective embargo of oil products to South Africa that Nelson Mandela said was one of the critical pressures on the apartheid government to reconcile.
Rank-and-file seafarers Wally Pritchard from the SUA and Henrik Berlau from the Danish Seamen's Union led the grass roots campaign.
While the oil embargo was a voluntary effort and was endorsed in principle by the global trade union movement, it's architects saw it as a critical weapon to bring down the apartheid regime and resolved to make it a priority.
The Seamen's Union and Waterside Workers Federation of Australia united with the Danish Seamen's Union, the National Union of Seamen (UK) and the Transport and General Workers Union (UK) to become the fulcrum of the organising of the embargo.
That effort came to a head in 1985 at a huge conference in London which was attended by some of the most important leaders of the African National Congress including Oliver Tambo. The oil embargo was the last door to shut on the apartheid regime and, as the embargo grew, the regime knew that its days were numbered.
When Nelson Mandela walked to freedom in February 1990, the Seaman’s Journal and Maritime Worker in Australia joined trade union publications around the world in celebration and devoted their front covers to the moment with a picture of a young Mandela and the word “FREEDOM” in bold capital letters spread across the page.
Mandela himself made note of the support of maritime workers when, meeting with former SUA national secretary Pat Geraghty in 1990 after his release from prison, he spoke of the impact of the campaign on them behind the the walls of Robben island: “We knew what you were doing and it was very important to peoples’ minds”.
While our hearts are heavy today with the passing of this great, generous and humble leader, we are also grateful for having walked with him and his comrades along the path they took in the long struggle for justice.
Mandela helped change his peoples’ destiny, but he also touched the lives of every person who felt his spirit and will continue to do so.
On behalf of the members, officers and staff of the Maritime Union of Australia, and the affiliates of the International Transport Workers federation, I extend the deepest sympathies and condolences to his family, to countless friends, supporters, and political and industrial brothers and sisters, both in South Africa and around the world.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand has paid its respects to the late Nelson Mandela.
Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Joe Fleetwood says maritime workers were longtime supporters of the battle against apartheid.
“Seafarers and waterfront workers in New Zealand were active over many decades in supporting the struggle of Nelson Mandela and the countless others who fought against this evil system.”
Mr Fleetwood says that for many years the political establishment in New Zealand and elsewhere in the Western world labelled Mandela and anti-apartheid militants as terrorists.
“During this time of shame, maritime workers backed the global struggle against apartheid.”
“We are proud of our small role and we salute the memory and legacy of Nelson Mandela.”