Australian unions are today mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, a towering figure of the twentieth century and an inspirational figurehead for equality and justice across the globe.

“Today, the world has lost a truly great man whose dignity, humanity and courage is an inspiration to all of us,” said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

“He was a champion to millions around the world and will not be forgotten but will stand as a reminder that wrongs in the world can be overturned though perseverance, and a determination that righteousness should prevail.

“He was a towering figure of Africa’s struggle for freedom; a man of peace who became a hero for freedom and equality during his 26 years of imprisonment by the South African apartheid regime.

“His stature only grew in subsequent years when he unified South Africans and led his nation through reconciliation.”

Ms Kearney said Australian unions were immensely proud to have supported Nelson Mandela and the campaign against Apartheid.

“Apartheid in post war South Africa was an immoral denial of basic human rights and democracy,” Ms Kearney said.

“Nelson Mandela will always be remembered for his leadership in bringing apartheid to an end and international unions are proud to have played a part in the fight – giving unstinting support to the ANC and victims of apartheid for decades.

 “The maritime unions in particular played a crucial role by enforcing and organising sanctions against the Apartheid government.

 “Unions quickly recognised that Nelson Mandela was not a terrorist, but a freedom fighter not just for native South Africans, but for all oppressed people around the world. The role played by the Hawke Labor Government in co-ordinating and leading international diplomatic efforts to end Apartheid must also be recognised.”

When Nelson Mandela visited Australia in 1990, soon after his release from Robben Island prison in 1990, the ACTU hosted a welcome for him at the Melbourne Town Hall where he acknowledged and thanked Australian unions for being one of the first groups to give support in overcoming apartheid.

From the 1960s up until 1990, Australian unions organised and enforced trade and shipping boycotts alongside official sanctions of South Africa; formed links with black African trade unions, particularly the peak organisation, COSATU; and helped establish and fund the ANC’s office and representative in Sydney.

The ACTU’s overseas aid organisation, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA was a leading agency in supporting the democratic movement, including providing assistance to the ANC during the Apartheid years and later helping those in exile to return during the transition to democracy.

Ms Kearney said Mr Mandela’s courageous leadership would not be forgotten and would live on long after he was gone.