Dunnes Stores strike woman hails Mandela

A woman who spearheaded a landmark workers’ strike at Dunnes Stores over South African apartheid in the 1980s has described Nelson Mandela as an inspiration.

Dunnes Strikers in the 80s: from left to right: Teresa Mooney, Catherine O'Reilly, Karon Gearon, Veronica Munroe, Alma Russell, Sandra Griffin, Mary Manning, Tommy Davis. Front: Leah Munroe. Pic: Derek Spiers.

Mary Manning and her colleagues at Dunnes Stores on Henry Street in Dublin became household names for their two-and-a-half year picket demanding a boycott of South African products.

Ms Manning – who had a street named after her in Johannesburg – praised Mr Mandela for his dignity and manner.

“I think the world has lost a great man. He was just an inspiration for so many,” Ms Manning said.

“So many admired what he was doing or what he did, and when he got out of prison, to then become elected president of the country and to be such a dignified man and his manner, and his way of dealing with people.

“He wasn’t bitter about what had happened to him. I think he’s an inspiration to everybody.”

The strike at Dunnes Stores was one of the longest in trade union history and only ended when the Government agreed to ban the import of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was over.

Mr Mandela met the strike workers during a visit to Dublin in the early 1990s.

President Michael D Higgins said this meeting was the only time he saw Mr Mandela emotional.

The political leader insisted the bravery and commitment of the strikers gave him strength during his imprisonment.

Ms Manning was a cashier at the supermarket in 1984 when the workers agreed they would refuse to handle fruit and vegetables from South Africa.

Ms Manning told RTE Radio that she, aged 21 at the time, was threatened with severe disciplinary action if she continued to refuse to handle the goods.

She was given five minutes to change her mind and when she refused, she was suspended on the spot.

Ms Manning, along with a number of her fellow strikers, later travelled to South Africa but was denied entry by the apartheid regime.

She said it is somewhere she would still like to visit.

The workers were commemorated five years ago with an official plaque in central Dublin.

Ms Manning was presented the plaque in a special ceremony by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

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