Article from the July 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Obituary: Black South African workers' leader and fighter for socialism Nimrod Sejake: born 8 August 1920; died 27 May 2004.

I WILL never forget Nimrod Sejake who has died at the age of 83.

By Councillor Mick Barry I first met him at the AGM of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1983. As a delegate from Labour Youth I spoke on two resolutions, one calling for the overthrow of apartheid and its replacement with a socialist South Africa and the other calling for direct links between workers organisations in Ireland and the emerging independent non-racial trade unions in South Africa. IAAM Secretary Kadar Asmal (who went on to be a government minister in South Africa), not wanting to offend bourgeois allies, spoke strongly against the motions. Everyone in the hall voted against except the two Labour Youth delegates and a small, black man with national health glasses, a neat beard and a teachers suitcase. He was unknown to me. He would not remain unknown much longer.

Nimrod was an exile. He had worked as a teacher but had given up his job to fight for the slaves of apartheid - the black working class. In the 1950s he emerged as the most talented and militant union organiser in the country. Go to a library and get a copy of "Organise or Starve" the history of the South African Congress of Trade Unions: there on the front cover is a picture of a young Nimrod Sejake in a sharp suit addressing a mass meeting.

Arrested in the late 1950s with hundreds of other leaders of the fight against apartheid, Nimrod was placed in a jail cell with Nelson Mandela and charged with treason.

With the death sentence a real possibility, Nimrod seized the opportunity to escape. He lived in Tanzania and Egypt where he slept with the beggars under the stars on the banks of the Nile.

Nimrod went to the Soviet Union to study Marxism. He enrolled at a Stalinist college but clashed with his professors. Disillusioned with the Soviet Union, he spent time in China and Albania but they did not match his vision of a socialist society either.

He had always been fascinated with Ireland ever since he had been shown a map of the world as a young boy and had Ireland pointed out to him as a place where (under British rule) white men had once been oppressed by white men. He arrived here in the early 1980s.

Soon after the IAAM AGM Nimrod joined the Militant Tendency (forerunner of the Socialist Party) and the Committee for a Workers International.

Although an internationalist to the core, his first passion was, of course, the struggle at home and he saw the 1984-6 Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike as marvellous assistance. He visited that picket line most days for two whole years and was adopted by the young strikers as a kind of wise old revolutionary uncle.

When apartheid's walls were battered down Nimrod went home and many Irish tears were shed. He was re-united with his family after more than 30 years. He rejoiced at the end of apartheid but was very sharply critical of his old colleague Mandela and the ANC leadership for maintaining capitalism - and the brutal poverty that goes with it. Although he parted ways with the CWI in the last few years of his life he remained an incorruptible fighter against capitalism until the end.

Nimrod Sejake was with us in Ireland for only 10 years or so but he gave the young socialists of the 1980s a lifetime of inspiration. Somehow I think that I will not be the only one who will never forget him.

This article is one of a number we've published marking the death of tis remarkable man. Check our Labour History section where they are all listed.

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