Sonwabo Eddie Funde was the African National Congress (ANC) representative in Australasia between 1983 and 1992. In that time, he built an extraordinary grassroots movement across Australia and New Zealand of committed, energetic and effective anti-apartheid activists. Along the way, he won the hearts of those he met with his ability, dignity, personal charm and good humour.
We reproduce below edited versions of two tributes delivered at the Commemoration of Eddie’s life held in the Sydney Trades Hall on 19 June 2018; the first from Daren McDonald, a family friend who also attended Eddie’s state funeral in Johannesburg, the second from Malcolm Larsen, who became involved in the anti-apartheid movement as a student in the early 1980s.
Tribute by Daren McDonald
Eddie Funde touched the lives of thousands of Australians. We admired him, we loved him, and we deeply share the grief of his family and people.
Comrade Eddie passed away on 22 May 2018. After an initial Memorial Service held in Pretoria on 28 May to honour Eddie’s life, the ANC declared 31 May 2018 a National Funeral and, in Johannesburg that day, the ANC leadership, friends and family paid tribute to Comrade Eddie’s life.
It is highly significant that the Australian Memorial is held at Sydney Trades Hall for it was here that Eddie established the ANC Mission. And it was in this auditorium, packed to the rafters, that President Oliver Tambo addressed the trade union movement to a rousing reception.
The day Madiba stood with Eddie on the steps of the Sydney Opera House – before a sea of ordinary Australians who had flocked to the foreshore in a city abuzz with excitement that Mandela was free and in Sydney – embodied the enormity of the achievements in Australia by Eddie (and the anti-apartheid coalition that he built).
To appreciate this, we must go back 35 years to the day Eddie arrived in Australia. The 1967 Referendum – a landmark achievement for Indigenous Australians – had been won a mere 16 years before. Despite some inspiring actions against the apartheid state such as the boycotts imposed by maritime unions on South African shipping and the large protests against Springbok tours, on arrival Eddie found little resembling a nationally cohesive, broadly based and permanent anti-apartheid ‘movement’.
For most Australians, apartheid was not a key issue. Even most progressives focused on issues closer to home – Vietnam, French nuclear testing in the Pacific, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Most ordinary Australians had never heard of Nelson Mandela and the ANC; many of those who had considered them terrorists.
We know now that, when the decision was taken by the ANC Support Committee in 1983 to support the establishment of an ANC Mission in Australia, an ASIO agent was in attendance taking notes.
The day Eddie arrived in Australia to establish the Australasian Mission he knew no one, had no money, no office, nowhere to live, no income to feed himself or run his Mission and, perhaps worst of all, no wife, as Nosizwe’s arrival would have to await him raising enough funds to support his family.
Fast forward a mere handful of years and:
- a broad and influential movement of unions, churches and other civil society institutions supporting the ANC had been built in Australia;
- Australians were undertaking all manner of solidarity actions;
- the Hawke Labor Government was in the vanguard of the Commonwealth in imposing financial sanctions, and was funding development assistance programs such as scholarships for ANC students;
- Apartheid had become the number one international issue in Australian civil society; and
- the ANC was widely accepted by Australians as the legitimate South African government in waiting.
A seismic shift towards the ANC had occurred in our country during those years, and Eddie Funde’s fingerprints were all over it.
Eddie (and Nosizwe’s) work in Australia did not just help change South Africa; it also changed Australia.
To quote Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU:
The Australian Trade Union Movement acknowledges the incredible role that Eddie Funde played in changing South Africa.
We also wish to recognise the part he played in improving Australian society. His belief in the Australian people to support liberty and equality in South Africa helped us reshape our national image and changed Australia’s place in the world.
The story of the victory over apartheid is incomplete without the chapter telling of Eddie’s years in Australia.
Tribute by Malcolm Larsen
Most of us, throughout a lifetime, only come across a handful of people who are both inspiring national political leaders and warm friends; people who influence us in such a way, they leave an indelible personal mark. For me and many others, Eddie Funde was such a person: political leader, educator, mentor; comedian, optimist; patient, thorough, and determined; proud yet humble; charismatic. But not brief. For Eddie came from the Moscow school and, for those of us who remember, he rarely made brief remarks.
He patiently taught us about the struggle for a non-racial South Africa and, in that, a bit about ourselves.
Throughout the mid to late 1980s, public debate and even popular culture became focussed on the continuing incarceration of Nelson Mandela, as the symbol of apartheid tyranny. The Hawke government took a very public international position against apartheid and for human rights. For Australia it was a moment of international renown and national pride.
But I don’t think the message was ever lost on Australians, whether they were anti-apartheid activists listening to a speech about apartheid, or ordinary folk listening to a song about Nelson Mandela, that they should compare the apartheid minority’s treatment of black South Africans with the Australian majority’s treatment of indigenous Australians.
On the wall of the office in Trades Hall where we used to meet was a poster of the ANC Freedom Charter, which set the key principles of a liberated South Africa. The Freedom Charter declared:
- The people shall govern
- All national groups shall have equal rights
- The people shall share in the country`s wealth
- The land shall be shared among those who work it
- All shall be equal before the law
- All shall enjoy equal human rights
- There shall be work and security
- The doors of learning and culture shall be opened
- There shall be houses, security and comfort
- There shall be peace and friendship.
One couldn’t help but consider the Freedom Charter’s application to Australia.
Eddie helped advance our understanding that racism is more than just a law that forbids one race from voting, or walking through the same doorway. Because even though he was here as a representative of a very South African political organisation, the ANC, campaigning against a very South African creation called apartheid, the campaign that he led, and the way he led it, was for a very human universal freedom. That’s why he was so effective.
I saw Eddie again at home with his family in Johannesburg in February this year, after a gap of 26 years. Despite the limitations placed on him by an earlier accident that left him quadriplegic and wheelchair bound, he never gave up. He was the same old Eddie, living in the present and planning for the future.
Eddie Funde set himself big goals and achieved most of them.
My lasting memory of Eddie Funde is the smile on his face that night as we talked about the work he did and was still doing. Working not just for his beloved country, but for all humanity.