The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Brian Mulroney
Brian Mulroney’s role in the fight against apartheid while in office as Prime Minister of Canada contributed immensely to South Africa’s liberation struggle. His leadership on the international stage against South Africa’s apartheid regime had been impressive. From 1985, Mulroney spearheaded an aggressive Canadian push within the Commonwealth for sanctions to pressure the racist South African government to end apartheid and release Mandela from prison where he had been locked up for a quarter century.
He saw a nation where five million whites dominated 24 million blacks who did not have the right to vote and where racism was endemic. That put him at odds with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. After a particularly critical August 1986 meeting in London that left an isolated Britain on the sidelines, Canada moved with other Commonwealth nations on 11 additional sanctions such as bans on new air links, new investment in South Africa and promotion of tourism to the country.
After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela rejected vengeance, ended apartheid as national leader, and was transformed into a global icon for peace and tolerance. But in the 1980s, when he needed foreign friends the most, it was Mulroney’s Canadian Government that led the way. Mandela never forgot it.
The day after his release from prison, he spoke with Mulroney on the telephone. “We regard you as one of our great friends because of the solid support we have received from you and Canada over the years,” he told Mulroney, according to the Canadian Prime Minister’s memoirs: “When I was in jail, having friends like you in Canada gave me more joy and support than I can say. ”
In 2004, Mandela sent a letter in which he said Mulroney had provided strong and principled leadership in the struggle against apartheid. He also said this was not a popular position in all quarters, but South Africans today acknowledge the importance of his contribution to South Africa’s eventual liberation and success.