The recent visit to South Africa of the 1980s Dunnes Stores strikers to attend the memorial service for Nelson Mandela enabled the strikers to visit the family of the late Nimrod Sejake who while a political refugee in Ireland had supported and inspired the strikers. The visit by the IDATU – now Mandate – members who had taken unprecedented action by refusing to handle South African goods in solidarity with oppressed black workers, was reported on in the Irish Times 12th December and was clearly for the strikers and Nimrod’s family of huge significance.
Nimrod Sejake died 10 years ago at 83, having spent over 50 years in South Africa and in exile fighting against apartheid and capitalism. Nimrod was a contemporary of Nelson Mandela and that generation of leaders of the ANC and South African Communist Party who led the campaigns of defiance against the hated apartheid laws which were intended to ensure that the overwhelming majority African population would be a reservoir of cheap labour for the white owners of the mines, factories and plantation farms.
Nimrod, unlike Mandela and the other ANC leaders of that generation understood the fundamental link between apartheid and capitalism. He saw that organising African workers into militant trade unions to fight for their share of the enormous wealth that they produced and to go on to build a workers party to end apartheid and capitalism in a socialist South Africa.
Nimrod was and inspiring workers leader of the Iron and Steel Workers Union and as the struggle intensified in South Africa in the late 1950s, he was put on trial with 156 leaders including Mandela, in the famous Treason Trial which the apartheid regime initiated with a view to executing the main leadership in a bid to stop the movement. As Nimrod put it, “The gallows were smelling”. He escaped South African and spent decades in exile before coming to Ireland as a refugee in the 1980s.
Nimrod was a convinced revolutionary socialist and he saw his perspective confirmed as the struggle in South African escalated after the Soweto uprising with new independent unions being built and demanding socialism. In Ireland he met up with the Militant – forerunner of the Socialist Party – and from then on campaigned up and down the country and internationally to raise workers awareness of the South African workers struggle..
A small group of workers refused to handle South African goods and began a historic strike which impacted internationally. Throughout the strike Nimrod walked the picket line at Dunnes Stores, supporting and inspiring the strikers and, as Karen Gearon stated, “kept us going during the strike”. The visit to his family in Soweto was an emotional event for the strikers and Nimrod’s family and was, as expressed by the strikers, “the most important thing for us to do here”.
Nimrod Sejake returned to South Africa in 1992 and until his death in 2004 continued to fight for socialism. Were he alive today, he would support the movement to build a workers party on a socialist programme which has taken off following the massacre of over 40 miners at Marikana by the ANC police, the founding of the Workers and Socialist Party and the recent decision of NUMSA – the largest union in Africa – to break from the ANC and to begin to build a socialist party.
For more information on these events and on Nimrod Sejake visit www.socialistparty.ie