Canada played a small but significant role in helping to end apartheid rule in South Africa and forge strong relations to the late Nelson Mandela. Here's a look at five of those events.

1961 – After South Africa voted to become a republic in 1960, the country requested to also remain within the Commonwealth. It was a request that divided the Commonwealth prime ministers. Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker -- who had long quietly hated the apartheid regime -- encouraged the prime ministers to insist that racial equality be a requirement for Commonwealth membership. South Africa decided to withdraw its request.

Decades later, after Mandela had become president of South Africa in 1994, the country was finally welcomed back into the Commonwealth.


Sept. 1986 – Under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Canada decided to implement tough trade sanctions against South Africa, including bans on new investment in South Africa and promotion of tourism to the country.

He encouraged other members of the Commonwealth and the G7 to do the same, but ran into steep opposition from Britain's Margaret Thatcher. She argued the sanctions would be useless and would only hurt black South Africans as well as the British economy. Ronald Reagan, who suspected that both the ANC and Mandela were communists, also opposed such moves.

Even after then-South African President F.W. de Klerk freed Mandela and moved to end segregation of public facilities, Mulroney heeded Mandela's requests to keep the sanctions in place, arguing that "apartheid, in all its repugnance is still the law in South Africa."

The sanctions were finally lifted in February 1993, at Mandela's request.


Feb. 1990 -  One day after being released from two decades of imprisonment, Mandela called Mulroney to thank him for Canada's support in his fight.

According to Mulroney's memoirs, Mandela told him: “We regard you as one of our great friends because of the solid support we have received from you and Canada over the years… When I was in jail, having friends like you in Canada gave me more joy and support than I can say.”

Four months after his prison release, Mandela visited Canada and addressed Parliament: "Your support... sustained us, gave us hope and encouragement, even in the darkest days," he told Canadians.

It was a visit that Mulroney has never forgotten, he told CTV's Lisa LaFlamme in an interview the day Mandela died: "He showed up and delivered certainly the most memorable address of my lifetime," Mulroney said of Mandela's June, 1990, address.

"(I learned from him) his selflessness and the complete absence of malice. After his 27-year imprisonment, that was, I think, his greatest contribution."


Sept. 1998 - Mandela made a second visit to Canada to visit then-prime minister Jean Chretien, and is made an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada -- one of only a handful of people born outside of Canada to receive the honour.

During his address to Parliament, he said: "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."

Later, he spoke to a rally of more than 40,000 students at Toronto's SkyDome and said: "You have made me feel like a young man again with my batteries recharged. The greatest joy has been to discover that there are so many children in this country who care about other children around the world."


Nov. 2001 - Mandela made his final visit to Canada in 2001, to attend a ceremony to rename a Toronto public school after him and receive honorary degrees. He was also made an honorary citizen of Canada – one of only five people to ever receive such an honour.