South Africans cried using NW made polling booths

The late Nelson Mandela upon his release in 1990.

The late Nelson Mandela upon his release in 1990.

  • by Kevin Mullan

An anti-apartheid speech co-written by Mark Durkan and John Hume was delivered to Nelson Mandela in jail whilst Londonderry-made aluminium polling booths and unused ballot papers were used in dry-run elections long before 1994.

Foyle MLA Mark Durkan says he watched African National Congress (ANC) supporters crying as they signed “Irish ballot papers” in Londonderry-made polling booths even though they were participating only in mock elections.

In a tribute to the late former President of the Republic of South Africa at Westminster he stated: “As a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement - I represented the Union of Students in Ireland and then my party - I found myself in the unusual position of importing something into pre-democratic South Africa in the early 1990s. It was two collapsible aluminium polling booths that were made in my constituency, to be used as part of a training exercise by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDIIA).”

The NDIIA - now the National Democratic Institute (NDI) - is a Washington based non-government organisation currently chaired by former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Mr Durkan explained: “I was one of an international faculty helping in that exercise, in which regional and local ANC activists were being prepared for what may be involved in elections, so that they could organise themselves.”

He said the Americans asked him to bring unused books of ballot papers from Ireland, north and south.

“During those mock arrangements, I witnessed many people who had had lifelong involvement in the struggle for democracy going through their first act of queuing up at a polling station and voting, on an Irish ballot paper.

“Even though it was a mock election, they were crying,” he said.

The Londonderry MP also told colleagues that a speech he wrote during the anti-apartheid campaign ended up in the hands of Mr Mandela.

Mr Durkan wrote the speech as a researcher for erstwhile Londonderry MP John Hume.

The speech declared that sanctions were not merely required as a badge of moral indignation nor to economically damage the apartheid regime but they were required “in solidarity with the struggle for democracy in South Africa.”

“After John Hume made that speech, Kader Asmal [the late ANC Minister and academic} who subsequently told Nelson Mandela that I helped to write it, made a point of getting it sent to South Africa and taken to Nelson Mandela in prison.

“Kader Asmal said that he thought it was the first time that a parliamentarian had put it that way,” he stated.




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