The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) stands in solidarity with our South African affiliates and all other South African unions and democratic organisations to remember the passing of Comrade Nelson Mandela, the visionary leader of the South African liberation struggle.
We mourn the loss of a leader who led by example and never put himself above the interests of ordinary people. We mourn the loss of a leader who understood that the workers of South Africa were entitled to a better life. And we mourn the loss of a leader who in all spheres of political life stood for social justice and equality, achieving the overthrow of apartheid and the first steps towards a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa is Mandela’s legacy.
The struggle against apartheid was a collective struggle. The power to defeat the might of the apartheid state was built by workers in the factories, farms, mines and shops. It was built by women, students, youth and working class communities. Mass-based organisations mobilised and organised against all forms of oppression and exploitation. The South African trade union movement was at the forefront of these struggles, linking workers’ demands in the workplace to the wider struggle for a radical transformation of society. Transport workers occupied a proud place in all these struggles, building a mighty, national industrial union which unified all transport sectors.
The collective struggle went beyond the borders of South Africa. Solidarity and internationalism was built in support of the South Africa struggle from all corners of the globe. Trade unions, and many ITF affiliates, took action to enforce the oil embargo, economic sanctions and disinvestment from South Africa. Unions internationally boycotted South African products. Many unions assisted their South African counterparts financially, and took solidarity action to strengthen their strikes. Union comrades around the world opened their offices, homes and communities to fellow South African trade unionists.
ITF President Paddy Crumlin paid moving tribute to Mandela, saying: “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.”
The ITF on behalf of some 4.5 million transport workers backs the South African unions call to end economic apartheid in which there is a growing gulf between the rich and poor. We will honour the memory of Mandela by continuing to fight against neo-liberalism, a global system that denies workers’ rights, creates insecure work, oppresses women, destroys the environment and deprives workers of their dignity. We will fight back inspired by his example, vision and words “that it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”