Tuesday 24 April 2018

Enormity of apartheid gradually impinged on Irish consciousness

Louise Asmal, a leader of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, told a solidarity conference in Durban in 2004 how Seamus Heaney was inspired by Mandela's release

A girl holds a candle during a service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, in the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto
A girl holds a candle during a service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, in the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto

Louise Asmal

The Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM) became, over the years, one of the most successful movements – not in terms of the effect we had on South Africa, though on the sporting field in particular we did have an effect – but in terms of the enthusiastic support the Irish people gave to the struggle, across all sections of society.

In the early Sixties, at the start of the solidarity struggle, very few people in Ireland could have told you what apartheid was. Yet when the Rivonia Trial started in 1964, there was an immediate response to the plight of those involved.

The forced removal of people, the Group Areas, found an echo in Irish colonial history, the Irish penal laws, and the forcible expulsion of the native Irish by Oliver Cromwell. Lord Salisbury, [a Prime Minister of Britain in the 19th century], said the Irish and Hottentots were "lesser races, unfit for self-government".

Please sign in or register with Independent.ie for free access to Opinions.

Sign In

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss