South Africa has a bright future "because of the tremendous legacy" left by Nelson Mandela, says former prime minister Brian Mulroney, so long as its citizens keep his message of love, hope and reconciliation alive.

In an interview with CTV's Question Period that aired Sunday, Mulroney remembered his friend Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95.

When asked if Mandela's death might imperil South Africa's fledgling democracy, Mulroney said no.

"I think the roots that Nelson Mandela sowed are deep enough or secure enough for South Africans to realize that what he wanted for them was happiness, prosperity, education, healthcare," Mulroney said.

"He wanted a better life for them, he wanted freedom, and you get that in these circumstances by building a new country and not by fighting with your neighbours or fighting with people on the basis of race or religion within. So I'm confident about the future because of the tremendous legacy that he left."

Mulroney said he and Mandela "became pretty fast friends" because of his government's hard-line stance, including strong economic sanctions, against South Africa's apartheid regime.

"When we came in in '84, Canada's activities in this area had been fairly tepid and we had to move our game up pretty quickly. And so we decided to focus on Mr. Mandela in South Africa and apartheid as our number one priority in the area of human rights and foreign policy," Mulroney said.

"And the message quickly went through to Mr. Mandela in jail at the time that there was a new game in town in Canada and that we took this very seriously, as did all Canadians."

Mulroney noted that while many Canadians were supportive of his government's stance towards South Africa, he acknowledged that he faced opposition from business leaders who had investments in the country, as well as from within his own party.

But, Mulroney said, he was reminded of the urgency of his government's actions every time he looked at the South African embassy, which is located right across the street from 24 Sussex Dr.

"Every morning when I left, I'd look outside and I'd see the residence and I'd get angry. And I'd be angry when I saw it before I went to sleep at night, because it was just a symbol of such significant evil against other human beings," Mulroney said.

"It's hard to remember ... that in one's lifetime, you could see a situation where three or four million whites dominated the 25 or 35 million blacks, stripped them of their rights, stripped them of their property, stripped them of their dignity and their decency, and treated them like slaves. And this was going on until Mr. Mandela was freed."

In the end, he said, he knew Canadians believed "we were fighting a fight that had to be fought and won," even in the face of opposition from then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan and then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

"(They) would take the position that, 'Well, Brian you know Mandela's a communist.' And I would say, 'And how do you know that? He's been in jail for 27 years. Did he call you up and tell you this? How do you know? The fact of the matter is, if he's receiving support from communist governments around the world, it's only because you're not helping him. If I were in jail for 27 years and a communist government supported me, I'd support them in return on behalf of my fellow South Africans.'

"So I think there was a blind spot there in the case of President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher."

In the end, Mandela himself told world leaders to keep up the pressure via sanctions when he was released from prison because it would help bring down the apartheid regime.

"Indeed we did," Mulroney said, "and it happened."