Nelson Mandela addresses Dáil during official state visit to Ireland on this day in 1990
Irish History

Nelson Mandela addresses Dáil during official state visit to Ireland on this day in 1990

IN 1988 Nelson Mandela was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin Award. The only trouble was, he couldn't collect it, because he was incarcerated in a South African prison for his anti-apartheid protests.

Little over two years later, Mandela was a free man, and duly travelled to Ireland to collect his award, and thank the Irish nation for their support to him and his his country's people.

Ever since the early 1960s, Ireland had vehemently opposed apartheid - systems racial segregation in South Africa established in the late 1940s.

Apartheid (which roughly translates to 'separate-ness') ensured that South Africa was dominated politically, socially, and economically by the nation's minority white population.

For conspiring to sabotage the government and dismantle apartheid, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1962, at the age of 44.

Naturally, his plight against an oppressive governing power, as well as his lengthy struggle for both equality and freedom resonated with the Irish people.

When he was released in 1990 after 27 years behind bars, Mandela's job had only just begun. South Africa was on the brink of a civil race war, and apartheid was still alive and well.

The peace process wouldn't be easy, so Mandela turned to Ireland for inspiration.

Addressing the Dáil, he spoke of how Ireland's resilience and nobility in its long walk to freedom should serve as a shining example to the rest of the world, and indeed to South Africa.

"The very fact there is today an independent Irish state, however long it took to realise the noble goals of the Irish people by bringing it into being, confirms that we too shall become a free people," Mandela said.

"We recognise ... the reaffirmation by the members of this house, and the great Irish people whom you represent, your complete rejection of the apartheid crime against humanity.

"[We recognise] your support for our endeavours to transform South Africa into a united, democratic and non-racial, non-sexist country, your love and respect for our movement, and the millions of people it represents.

"We know that the joy with which you have received us and the respect for our dignity you have demonstrated comes almost as second nature to a people who were themselves the victims of colonial rule for centuries.

"We know that your desire that the disenfranchised of our country should be heard in this house and throughout Ireland derives from your determination, borne of your experience that our people should, like yourselves, be free to govern themselves, and to determine their destiny."

A year after his visit to Ireland, Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress, and ran for President of South Africa three years later in 1994.

His historic victory - in what was the nation's first election where people of all races were allowed to vote - sparked the end of apartheid, and South Africa could finally focus on becoming a united nation.

Aptly, Mandela was afforded the nickname 'Madiba', meaning 'Father of the nation'.