Nelson Mandela thanks Canada, 1998

In this 1998 speech, South African President Nelson Mandela thanked Canada for its role in ending apartheid

In February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in a South African prison. He was later to become president of that nation. He is also one of only five people ever to have been granted honourary Canadian citizenship. He first addressed the Canadian Parliament in 1990, not long after his release from prison. In September 1998, he was nearing the end of his political career when he addressed Parliament for a second time. He thanked Canadians for their efforts to end apartheid and for helping to recast South Africa as a pluralist democracy.

“A personal farewell”

When I stood before you in 1990, it was as a freedom fighter still denied citizenship in my own country, seeking your support to ensure an irreversible transition to democracy.

Today, I stand before you as the elected representative of the South African people, to thank you once again, for helping us end our oppression; for assisting us through our transition; and now for your partnership in the building of a better life for all South Africans. We will forever be indebted to you.

Although we still have a long way to go before we have realised our vision of a better life for all, there has been a great transformation in South Africa since 1990, and solid foundations have been laid.

Truth and reconciliation

The experience of all peoples has taught that our democracy would remain secure and stable only if we could unite those who were once locked in conflict, and if our new freedoms brought material improvement in the lives of our people . . .

In order that the memory of historical injustice and violations of human rights should not remain as continuing obstacles to national unity, our Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped us confront our terrible past. Painful and imperfect as the process has been, it has taken us further than anyone expected towards a common understanding of our history.

If we lay stress on uniting the different sections of our society, it is because unity and the partnership of all the structures of our society are critical to the reconstruction and development of our society in order to eradicate apartheid’s legacy of poverty and inequality . . .

Human rights

On my way here today, I had the honour of unveiling, at your human rights monument, a plaque dedicated to John Humphrey, author of the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I would like, if I may, to pay tribute to his contribution to the central philosophy of your country and his dedication to the cause of human rights worldwide.

This is an area in which your country and mine march hand in hand in practical action to make a living reality of the rights to which we subscribe. In this regard we think of Canada’s hard work, together with other countries, to bring to fruition the anti-landmine convention. We were very proud, in December last year, to be the third country, after Canada and Norway, to sign that convention, here in Ottawa.

International Criminal Court

Canada and South Africa also together played a part in the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court. South Africa is increasingly being called upon to play a role in peacekeeping, in Southern Africa and in Africa as a whole. Our approach is that we will play whatever part we can within our limited means, and within a multilateral framework, whether it be the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity, and the Southern African Development Community.

Peaceful resolution

Essential to our vision of a new and more humane international order is the belief that inevitable as differences may be, they need not and should not be resolved by the force of arms. We look to peaceful resolution of differences because this is the only way in which humanity can prosper.

It is in this context that South Africa has in recent days found itself called upon to contribute its forces to a joint regional security initiative aimed at assisting, at its own request, the democratically elected government of a neighbour, by securing a measure of peace and stability.

Here too, we look to Canada as a partner. We recognize Lester Pearson as the founder of modern peacekeeping, because of his innovative intervention in the Suez crisis.

Saluting Canada

By the same token, we salute Canada’s distinguished service over many years in Cyprus, Bosnia, and Somalia, and more recently in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland.

Canada’s internationalist record gives us confidence that you understand and share our vision of an African renaissance. If history has decreed that our continent, at the end of the twentieth century, should be marginalized in world affairs, we know that our destiny lies in our own hands.

Yet we also know that we cannot bring about our renaissance solely by our own efforts, since the problems we face are rooted in conditions beyond the power of any one nation to determine.

Common destiny

Indeed, the turmoil in far off economies that we have had to weather has, we know, affected Canada too. In the interdependent world in which we now live, rich and poor, strong and weak are bound in a common destiny that decrees that none shall enjoy lasting prosperity and stability unless others do too.

These harsh lessons of our global economy were the focus of attention at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Durban earlier this month. They have forced themselves upon the attention of the whole international community. A debate about the global trade and financial system that has been too long in the making has now been joined.

We urge you to join with us in seeking to redirect the system and its institutions so as to cater for the needs of development and the interests of the poor. In so doing we would be affirming a fundamental principle of all human society, namely that the existence and the well-being of each of us is dependent on that of our fellows. In a globalized world, that is as true of nations as it is of individual men and women.

A farewell

This occasion marks something of a farewell. I am deeply grateful that it has been possible, before my retirement from public life, to make this second visit to a people that has made our aspirations their own, who have insisted that the rights which the world declares to be universal should also be the rights of all South Africans. But though it is a personal farewell and in some sense an ending, I do know that it is also the beginning of a new and more profound relationship between our peoples.


CTV News Archive: Nelson Mandela’s 1998 address in the House of Commons
Address by Nelson Mandela to joint sitting of Canadian Parliament, Ottawa [full text]

More information

CBC News: Nelson Mandela in Canada


Wikipedia Commons © John Mathew Smith, 2001

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