The Dame Nita Barrow-Nelson Mandela Connection

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Dame Nita Barrow and the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons who visited Nelson Mandela while he was in Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa, in 1986. He was transferred from Robben Island four years earlier, after serving 18 years there.

dame_nitaBarbadian Dame Ruth Nita Barrow (third from left) was the sole female of the high-level, eight-member Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group that visited South Africa in 1986. While there, the Group called on Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor Prison where he was being held after serving 18 of his overall 27 years in detention on Robben Island. After six years at Pollsmoor, Mandela spent another three years at the Victor Verster lock-up before he was eventually freed in 1990.

During that 1986 mission, Dame Nita Barrow successfully thwarted South Africa’s military confines, by entering the restricted area of the Alexandria township, disguised in African garb and head-dress to resemble one of the women in the township. There, she held open and frank discussions with the residents, and got a first-hand account of conditions in the suburbs and the forthright views of the people. When South African government officials realized that she had given them the slip, they registered their disapproval and concerns to the Group.

After Mandela’s release from prison, Dame Nita Barrow, who went on to become Barbados’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1986-1990) and Governor General of Barbados (1990-1995) maintained regular contact with him until her death in 1995.

28 thoughts on “The Dame Nita Barrow-Nelson Mandela Connection

  1. Tudor;

    Yes, I second that wish. The story above and I think there are several others suggest that Dame Nita was an outstanding Diplomat, Statesperson and Barbadian.

    Hmmm! Now lets see who we now have as Permanent Representative at the UN or Minister of Foreign Affairs since a Governor General position does not necessarily test the statesmanship or caliber of an incumbent.


  2. @Tudor,
    What dark days? If Mandela was a person like you; pessimistic, lacking in self confidence the sould never have become the world leader he was.
    think positively. Our darkest days can never be like those days in South Africa. Count your blessings every day and give thanks.

  3. @ Alvin Cummins | December 9, 2013 at 9:57 PM |

    Your ‘arranged’ boisterous taciturnity on the outburst from Minister Inniss re the inevitable layoffs and privatization plans is most revealing about your hypocrisy and falsehood, Alvin.
    But you can always argue, as is you MO, that he (Inniss) has been “misquoted” and he did not mean what he said.

  4. @Miller,
    Wrong again. I can never be described as “taciturn” because it is not only in this instance that I am boistrous, and not taciturn. Donville’s statement that the civil service is too large does not necessarily mean that lots of civil servants have to be laid off. Ther is the natural attrition of people reaching retirement age, and since there is a freeze on hiring the numbers will be reduced.

  5. There is the natural attrition of people reaching retirement age, and since there is a freeze on hiring, the numbers will be reduced.

    Alvin does talk real balls doah……I guess that number would equate 3000 – 6000 easy….right Alvin?As to dark days…wait til January 2014…..NO Lay OFFS….No lay OFFS….now is smile and go home right Alvin?

  6. @ David | December 10, 2013 at 7:38 AM |

    That is a message signaled to the World that there will soon be ‘rapprochement’ between Cuba and the USA as a legacy of the Obama presidency; just to walk in one footstep of Madiba.

    The soon-to-be established ‘entente cordiale’- leading to firmer formal relations- would have far reaching implications for the rest of the Caribbean; especially those East Caribbean countries that have put all their eggs in the tourism basket.

    These tourism destinations that benefited from the Cuban embargo over the years will soon have to return to the ‘status quo ante’ of backwater destinations when Cuba comes in from the cold, much to the chagrin of your friends ac and Zoe.

  7. @David
    Who witnessed Obama shake the hand of Castro this morning at the Mandela ceremony?
    I didn’t witness it but what cosmic forces are being realigned with a handshake? To refuse to do so would make Obama boorish in the eyes of the world. In any event the Americans have always engaged with their “enemies”. At the height of the Cold war Nixon went to China and more recently the Americans were involved in secret talks with the Iranians before the recent agreement on the limitation of their nuclear capacity.

    The Americans have long had a representative in Cuba not at the Ambassador level but what is called a “representative” but there will not be any formal relationship during Obama’s term in Office unless the Castro brothers say “adios”.

  8. I know some might possibly take an affront to my comment but I am going to make it anyway. Now, how would anyone know what kind impacted Dame Nita have had on Mandela’s released? The poor woman wasn’t even known that well in the international community as far as I’m concern. Perhaps, I am wrong and subject to your correction, but I haven’t heard about this lady in the way of influenced, especially on the international scene.

  9. One ought to have some kind of international standing in order for his or her words to carry some kind of influence. Don’t you think?

  10. @ Fentry
    …but then again you did not know that Sir Hilary was a Man…. (?) what the hell can you know about Dame Nita….you realize of course that Dame Nita was a woman…? …right?
    Watch it …
    SIR – man
    Dame – woman

    One ought to know a bit about what they are attempting to talk about, in order to carry some kind of influence…DON’T YOU THINK?
    Lol Ha Ha. 🙂

  11. Bush Tea, you’re quite right, because I hadn’t the slightest idea whether or not Dr. Hilary Beckles had been male or female. But that in itself does not change the fact that he does not command any meaningful influence on the international stage. Now, I am acutely aware of those persons who has and continues to influence world opinion in miraculous ways. And I hardly think Dr.Beckles can be credited with such a distinction! Yes, I am quite certain that Dr. Beckles influence is greatly felt on the local level, but on the international front, his opinion amount to nothing more than the average academic.

  12. @ Bush Tea
    It behooves me to inform you that I do desire to engage you in verbal combat, because I’ve gathered from previous debates here, that you’re envoleped in an inflated sense of self. And that’s quite alright, if it serves to fuel your sense of inadequancy! Now, I beg your pardon sir, if I appear in anyway to be a stick in the mud with respect to my characterization of who I think you are as a person. And finally, I only hope that you and I can learn to agree to disagree, agreeably brother?

  13. A word of caution Bush Tea: in keeping with the collegiate spirit, it is always wise to attack the argument rather than the person against whom you may have a disagreement.

  14. Mr Fenty..
    After you bragged that you were a US soldier of some”10th mountain something”…. Bushie have no desire to get into any argument with you… 🙂 …cause wunna fellows does shoot faster than wunna could think…

    Don’t you think that if Bushie had an “inflated sense of self” the bushman would promote his name (i.e. Marcus Fenderfield III) instead of “Bush tea”… ( 🙂 …like YOU? )
    what self what?!

    …just asking …cause wunna ex US soldiers does exhibit some REAL irrational behaviors sometimes….. You sure you ain’t got a piece o shrapnel in your head….? Or had Agent Orange for kool aid…?

    BTW all Bushie pointed out is that Sir Hilary is a man, and Dame Nia was a lady….
    Wuh you want to argue ’bout bozie….?

  15. Yes, I spent 4 very hard years of my life attached to the 10th Mountain Light Infantry Division at Fort Drum NY. And I am very proud to have served in a Division that has been deployed to every major conflict around the world in recent time. From: Grenada, Haiti, Bosnia, Panama, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan… you name it… the 10th as it is called… has been there! I am also proud to have served in the United States Army but more importantly, I am proud to have served in the most deployed Army Division in the United States Military history. Climb To Glory… Our Division Motto…..

  16. I’ll let you in on a little Military secret: the foot soldier of the 10th Mountain Light Infantry, has to be prepare to deploy to any part of the world within 48 hours of the President’s command. And the president does not necessarily need the backing of the Congress to deploy the Military initially, he can use the War Powers Act and then consult the Congress after he has done deploy American forces.

  17. Mr Fenty..
    After you bragged that you were a US soldier of some”10th mountain
    something”…. Bushie have no desire to get into any argument with you… 🙂 …cause wunna fellows does shoot faster than wunna could think…
    ……………………………….. Mark Fenty is an ex-soldier? . Arte et Marte , my brother -in-arms.

  18. @ Colonel Buggy
    Man what Arte et marte what?!!
    By skill and by fighting….or
    More like “twist to open” – like a puppet of a crazy out of control war machine designed to accomplish the financial objectives of Haliburton and such corporate vultures…?

    How the hell does an intelligent person VOLUNTEER to put themselves into such a position….?
    Pray tell us colonel….

  19. Rastafari group re-establishes reparations committee

    St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The organization of Rastafari in Unity (ORU) recently re-established its reparation committee to continue its work to sensitize the public on the issue of reparations. This was done in light of the regional thrust by CARICOM to pursue reparations, mandating that each member state establish a reparations committee. St. Kitts and Nevis however has yet to announce the establishment of this committee prompting the ORU to revive its committee and move ahead with its plans.   Ras Kalonje, Public Relations Officer of the ORU said the first order of business is to educate the nation on every aspect of reparations. “The Reparations Committee was formed with the mandate to research, inform and educate the population and advance the just cause of education within our federation,” Kalonje said. The Rastafarian community in St. Kitts has asserted itself at the forefront of the reparations movement even before the CARICOM initiative.  CARICOM agreed to the establishment of a National Reparations Committee in each member state, with the chair of each committee sitting on a CARICOM Reparations Commission.  Barbados will act as chair, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago will provide political oversight. The decision was taken following presentations by member states, led by St. Vincent and the Grenadines. WINN asked Ras Kalonje what his organization would want to see for the government reparations committee.  Hear more from Ras Kolonje
    – See more at:

  20. @ ark Fenty;
    (born Nov. 15, 1916—died Dec. 19, 1995), Barbadian public health official and diplomat who , capped a long and distinguished career with her appointment in 1990 as the first woman governor-general of Barbados. Barrow, who was the sister of the country’s first prime minister, Errol Barrow, studied nursing in Barbados, at the Universities of Toronto and Edinburgh, and at Columbia University, New York City. During the 1940s and ’50s, she held a variety of nursing and public health posts in Barbados and Jamaica, and in 1964 she became an adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO). She rapidly gained international stature as nursing adviser (1967-71) to the Pan American Health Organization, medical commissioner (1971-80) and a president (1983) of the World Council of Churches, president (1975-83) of the World YWCA, health consultant (1981-86) to WHO, president (1982-90) of the International Council for Adult Education, and Barbadian ambassador (1986-90) to the UN. Barrow presided at the 1985 international women’s conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and was the only woman named to the Eminent Persons Group set up to investigate racism in South Africa. In 1988 she lost a bid for the presidency of the UN General Assembly. Barrow was made Dame of the Order of St. Andrew in 1980.

  21. @ Mark Fenty:
    In any consideration of exceptional women of the Caribbean, the name Dame Nita Barrow, second recipient of the CARICOM Triennial Award, assumes much significance. A distinguished and highly celebrated Caribbean citizen, the late Dame Ruth Nita Barrow gave extraordinary service to Barbados, her country of birth, and the region as a whole and is revered as one of the outstanding regional leaders of all time.

    Dame Nita Barrow’s calling to service in the health care field commenced with a career in nursing, one of the few options open to young women in her time. From nursing to health care administration she progressed to a remarkable and illustrious career in Public Health and Heath Education which transported her into the spotlight of the international arena. Her appointment in 1964 as Nursing Adviser to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and subsequently to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) availed her the wonderful opportunity to serve the Region she loved as principal adviser to sixteen Caribbean governments and sparked off a long productive career in the UN System. Dame Barrow was recognized internationally as an authority on Public Health and Health Education, producing several publications on issues pertaining to health care. The scholastic career of this eminent daughter of the Caribbean included graduate degrees from the University of Toronto and the University of Edinborough.

    A strong Christian and daughter of an Anglican Priest, Dame Barrow lived a spiritually anchored life, pursuing the provision of adequate health care out of her deep concern for the welfare of humanity. She was appointed Director of the Christian Medical Commission on the World Council of Churches in 1975. Dame Barrow is acclaimed for her active involvement in and strong advocacy for women’s rights, particularly the right to adequate health care. Through service within the United Nations and other engagements of her international career she consistently represented the condition of women and disadvantaged groups with the hope of alleviating manifestations of poverty in their daily lives. Participation in activities to mark the UN Decade for Women and her appointment as Director of the Global Forum for Women generated further opportunities for Dame Barrow to advocate and provide leadership in the interest of women.

    Dame Nita Barrow earned a stellar reputation in her career in the diplomatic community. From 1986 – 1990 she functioned as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the UN, a prelude to her appointment as Governor-General of Barbados from 1990 –1995. Dame Barrow’s life of dedicated service accorded her the honour of representation on numerous international bodies including several UN Groupings on the Environment and as a Member of the Earth Council. In recognition of her life of exemplary leadership and service to the region’s women and its peoples in general Dame Barrow has the distinction of being the first Caribbean woman to be accorded membership of the Order of the Caribbean Community in 1994. Other awards deservedly granted in the service of others include the Caribbean Prize for Peace Through Struggle For Justice in 1986. She was honoured as Dame of St. Andrew and Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George.

    Note: The Mahogany Coconut Group is dedicated to highlighting outstanding Caribbean Nationals. We hope these two postings will encourage more of our people to use available sources to learn more about our outstanding citizens especially those in the Diaspora, who are internationally known but are unknown in the region and their individual islands. Dame Nita Barrow, was not invited to meet with Mandela by accident. She was indeed a well known and revered international person long before she became Governor General of the island of Barbados.

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