SULTAN JESSA: Canada played an important role in South Africa’s march to freedom

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Nelson Mandela, the former leader of independent South Africa, was the first foreign head of state to receive the Order of Canada in 1998.

The African leader died a few days ago after a long illness at the age of 95.

Mandela was also granted honourary Canadian citizenship. This is a rare honour shared by a handful of people from around the world.

Canada and South Africa have always enjoyed warm and special relations since Mandela was freed from prison where he spent 27 years.

Less than 130 days after he was freed, Mandela was at the House of Commons in Ottawa.

He was laid into the chamber by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney whose leadership on the world stage against South African apartheid was recognized and admired by many world leaders.

“A historic moment is in sight,” Mandela said when he thanked Mulroney and Canadians from all walks of life for supporting South Africa’s blacks. “All of us as South Africans, both black and white, must build a common sense of nationhood in which all ideas of vengeance and retribution are impermissible.”

It was Canada which with other countries played a major role in the international sanctions campaign in the years leading up to Mandela’s release from prison.

“A precious light has gone out in the world,” Mulroney said after Mandela’s death.

Many Canadian leaders among them the current Prime Minister Stephen Harper also paid a glowing tribute to Mandela.

Over the years, Mandela and Mulroney became good friends.

Since then the two countries have enjoyed good relations and South Africa has never forgotten the role Canada played in the release and imposing sanctions against South Africa.

Organizations: House of Commons

Geographic location: South Africa, Canada

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