It may seems strange to mix activism into a memorial for a great leader, but when that leader is Nelson Mandela — an activist for his entire life — it seems only proper.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95, a long life for a man who suffered the rigours of 27 years in prison, a man who fought the evils of apartheid until the fight was won.
Others have written far more eloquently about the man and his career, and that writing continues. The best of it comes from the people who knew him — there are plenty of others who are essentially preparing Mandela for a sort of sainthood, but those who knew him draw a much more honest picture of a complicated man who fought great odds and lesser personal demons.
His was a life of a great man — but also very much a human being.
But here’s another thought for today: Brian
Mulroney was a strong opponent of apartheid, and he and Canada’s UN ambassador at the time, Stephen Lewis, took that fight even to such legendary political figures as then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Canadian anti-apartheid groups did even more.
“We regard you as one of our great friends because of the solid support we have received from you and Canada over the years,” Mulroney heard from Mandela in a phone call after the ANC leader’s release from prison.
Mandela went further, speaking of the “great Canadian people” in Ottawa in June 1990, telling Parliament, “They have proved themselves not only to be steadfast friends of our struggling people but great defenders of human rights and the idea of democracy itself.”
But Canada’s foreign policy is a far different thing now, and as a result, our place on the world stage has diminished dramatically. Just this past week, the federal government announced it plans to change Canada’s foreign policy to focus on “economic diplomacy,” breaking nations into three ranks: emerging countries where there are many opportunities for Canadian business, ones where there are specific opportunities, and a third tier where there are fewer options.
A sample of the plan, obtained by The Globe and Mail? “… All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector.”
An interesting model: in Madagascar right now, other countries are seeking the resumption of democratic government after a coup in 2009. Canadian diplomats seem more concerned, according to observers, with Toronto-based Sherritt International’s 40 per cent ownership stake in a $5.5-billion nickel-cobalt mine.
Does that mean mines first, human rights somewhere well down the chain? We’ll see — but that’s certainly where the language seems to be leading.
So here’s a few activist questions for Mandela’s fight that never ends: faced with a similar situation, what would the Harper government do? Fight an evil like apartheid, or watch out for Canadian economic interests instead? Has economic pragmatism trumped idealism in our country?
And is that where Canadians see our place in the world?