Saturday 25 October 2014

Workers’ ‘Blood Fruit’ fight recalled in film

Published 05/07/2014 | 23:46

BATTLEGROUND: Seamus Heaney joins Dunnes Stores workers on an anti-apartheid protest in 1985. Photo: Eamonn Farrell
BATTLEGROUND: Seamus Heaney joins Dunnes Stores workers on an anti-apartheid protest in 1985. Photo: Eamonn Farrell

For two years and nine months a bitter strike at Dunnes Stores in the early 1980s over the sale of South African fruit became the focus of world attention as a key battleground in the war against apartheid.

Now a new documentary film, two years in the making, explores those turbulent times and the strike that divided Ireland.

After years on the picket line, Dunnes Stores’ workers Mary Manning, Karen Gearon and their colleagues won. With the help of international pressure and support from Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jesse Jackson, the strikers forced the Irish government to implement change. Ireland became the first country in the western world to legislate for a complete ban on the importation of South African goods

Filmmaker Sinead O’Brien travelled with the strikers to South Africa for the funeral of Nelson Mandela, a hugely emotional journey for all of the Dunnes Stores veterans as none had ever been to the country.

The film Blood Fruit will have its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh on Thursday in the Town Hall Theatre at 3pm. Mary Manning, Karen Gearon, Cathryn O’Reilly and many of the other strikers will attend the screening and take part in a question-and-answer session afterwards with the director,  Ms O’Brien, and the producer, Noel Pearson.

Archbishop Tutu, a main contributor in the film, has written a statement to be read out on the day of the screening.

He says: “I am delighted that these extraordinary people seem to be finally getting the recognition they so richly deserve. You are part of the history of South Africa’s struggle for freedom. Your stand was a beacon of hope during dark days in our history.”

In 1990, Mandela said they had inspired millions of South Africans that “ordinary people far away from the crucible of apartheid cared for our freedom”.

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