Gerry Adams was applauded at the Nelson Mandela funeral in South Africa last Sunday, December 15th, 24 hours after joining an ANC guard of honour for ‘Madiba’.
Adams was invited by the African National Congress to a special memorial service for Mandela on Saturday, at an air force base near Pretoria.
The Louth deputy told the BBC that he was ‘privileged’ to take part in the official ceremony as Mandela’s body was handed over by the South African military to his former political party.
The event was attended by more than 1,000 members of the ANC including South African president Jacob Zuma. It featured a multi-faith service and a musical tribute.
Sinn Fein party colleague Richard McAuley also took part in the ceremony.
Adams said that Mandela was his hero and that he was honoured to be in South Africa. He wrote: “We were honoured and privileged to be part of the Guard of Honour for Madiba today.”
The Adams invite reflects a long term relationship between Sinn Fein and the ANC.
Adams told South African media: “Sinn Fein is very proud of “the decades-old relationship we have with our friends in the ANC.
“It was a great honour to be asked by the ANC to attend their service of remembrance to mark Madiba’s farewell.”
Adams then joined world leaders at the Mandela state funeral in the village of Qunu on Sunday. His attendance was notably ignored by most mainstream media news outlets in Ireland who covered the funeral, provoking the indignation of Sinn Fein officials.
Adams has credited the ANC and Mandela as playing a major role during the Irish peace process.
He told the London-based Guardian newspaper: “In developing the Sinn Fein peace strategy towards the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Irish republicans had recognised the importance of the international community as an ally for making progress in a peace process and as a source of inspiration and information for our own endeavours.
“While much of our focus was on America, which had the greatest concentration of the Irish diaspora, Irish republicans had always had a close affinity with the struggle in South Africa.
“The purpose of our trip in 1995 was to learn the lessons of South Africa’s approach to conflict resolution and to brief people on the difficulties in our process.
“Walter Sisulu, Cyril Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki, Cheryl Carolus and many other leaders of the ANC made us very welcome. However, for all in our group the highlight of our visit was the meeting with Madiba. He was self-effacing in his humour, relaxed and focused. As ever the British government, and sections of the British media, had made much about whether or not there would be a handshake, a photograph and so on. The Major government had lobbied hard for Mandela not to meet me. We shook hands in his office: ‘Ah, comrade Gerry,’ he said. ‘I’ll not wash my hand for a week.’