Ireland’s South Africans strive to further Mandela’s legacy
2017-08-04 11:20:00 -
The Integration Question with Princess Pamela Toyin

Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July was marked by the African National Congress  in Ireland with a special fundraising event to raise much needed funds for a children’s hospital in South Africa.

As explained by the ANC’s Irish chair, psychiatric nurse Michael Segoapa, the effort continues Mandela’s legacy of improving the lives of children in the ‘Rainbow Nation’.

It’s but one of a number of initiatives by the organisation, comprising South Africans in Ireland who wanted to fulfil the local and international objectives of the freedom fighter known affectionately as Madiba.

The event in Limerick last month – organised by “those who subscribe to the values of Mandela as a person”, according to Segoapa – drew people from all walks of life, and was described by ANC Ireland secretary Nosisi Jenga as “the best honour we can give Mandela”.

Nelson Mandela Day encourages people around the world to spend at least 67 minutes doing something positive for their community, displaying an act of kindness to celebrate Madiba’s life and legacy.

Nosisi cites South African Embassy staff joining in cleaning the city’s streets with Dublin City Council as an example of something one can do.

The significance of 67 is the number of years the late South African president spent fighting for democracy, social justice and equality. 

But such equality is not always observed when it comes to interactions between black and white South Africans. 

“We don’t mix a lot, and you can hardly see a white person at a function like this,” says Steve Shiang, a radiographer and former chairperson of the ANC Ireland.

Shiang doesn’t mince his words when he says white compatriots “are paying lip service to our struggle” by not turning out for such events “despite their claims to loving Mandela”.

He added: “It doesn’t look like we are united as Mandela wants us to be. We are not carrying on the ideals. Mandela means a lot to us blacks but to the white people, he doesn’t mean anything.”

On why this might be so, Shiang says: “Only they can answer that question; their substance speaks volume. As blacks we extend our hand of friendship to them. It appears we’re pushing too hard to get to them and they aren’t doing the same. I don’t think that will take us anywhere. We’re slowly drifting away and becoming more divided.”

Shiang explains that he grew up under oppression in the apartheid era. “I never voted until Mandela was released. Our true leaders were in prison and the people in government were people we never voted for. Our parents couldn’t go anywhere without their passports, there was passport control and blacks were only allowed to go to town for shopping. The liberation movement were labelled terrorists and trouble makers.”

South Africa today is marked by different kinds of trouble, from the growing criticism of controversial ANC leader and South African President Jacob Zuma to xenophobic violence against immigrants from elsewhere in Africa.

While Jenga, from Johannesburg, does not condone the xenophobic attacks, she show some signs of prejudice when she points the finger at foreign stall-keepers who have been the victims of such violence, claiming they “didn’t want to share” and that they “evade tax and shoot tax collectors”.

Segoapa is more understanding of the complexities of the situation, saying that the ANC Ireland has reaches out to other African communities in Ireland, to explain that the violence stems from a lack of information and communication, and does not represent South Africans as a whole.

“Some Africans don’t want to talk to us because of these attacks,” he says with regret.

At the same time, he also implores immigrants — from South Africa and elsewhere – to get more involved in the Irish political system. 

“Leo Varadkar went in by default [as Taoiseach] and hopefully people will see something good in him,” he says. “Obviously we will need to show our potential, because as an immigrant you have to be exceptionally good to get the same recognition as the native Irish.”

- Princess Pamela Toyin has gained experience since the mid 1980s working in various fields and interacting with people of different tribes and ethnicity. With her passion for diversity, she is propelled to report a diverse range of issues that facilitate intercultural dialogue and integration, which can change social, economic, and cultural stereotypes, and believes there are lessons to be learned from everyone. Talk to her on +353 (0) 87 417 9640 or email
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