Fighting the good fight

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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?

Organizations: UN, Globe and Mail, Sherritt International

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., Madagascar

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Recent comments

  • Bill
    December 09, 2013 - 14:21

    Super editorial. Canada's aid is supposed to help alleviate extreme poverty and advance human rights. Helping Canada's mining companies is not the role of Canada's development work. To your last point, it is a fair to ask, how many of the current leaders heading to Mandela's funeral service would have embraced the anti-apartheid struggle? My feeling is not many.

  • Ed Power
    December 08, 2013 - 14:19

    Yes, Mandela was such a "disgraceful" person. How dare he go to Cuba and embrace Castro, whose government had sent troops to fight anti-apartheid forces in Angola, Namibia and SA when most countries turned a blind eye to the brutality and oppression of the apartheid regime, and one - Israel - that actually engaged in nuclear weapons research with the South African military. Yes, if only Mandela had embraced such Western-backed luminaries in the fight for freedom and human rights as Batista, Trujillo, Marcos, Samoza, Duvalier, Suharto, Stroessner, Pinochet, Noriega, Mobutu Sese Seko, Franco, Salazar, Karimov, Ngo Dihn Diem, Zia al Haq, P.W. Botha, Ian Smith, Chaing Kai-Shek, the al Saud family, the Pahlevi family, Mubarak, Park Chung Hee.......

  • seanoairborne
    December 07, 2013 - 17:18

    Mandela was truly a disgraceful human being.After freeing his own people from the apartheid regime in SA he went to Cuba shortly after and hugged and kissed one of the most vile people to ever live,Fidel Castro!A criminal who incarcerated and murdered thousands of his own citizens for just speaking out and not agreeing with him.In fact,Mandela,made a speech in Havana and condemned the Cuban freedom fighters and the thousands of people who had been murdered by Castro and his henchman and are/were rotting away as we speak in Cuba's Gulags for speaking out about Castro's regime.Mandela said and I paraphrase here, "they didn't matter"which enraged millions of Cuban Americans who had escaped Cuba after the revolution and settled in the US!Yeah!He was a great "Communist"but that's about all he was.No better then Castro!The tyranny of history is the maker of myth once again!

    • Fred
      December 08, 2013 - 11:35

      seanoariborne.....unbelievable..absolutely unbelievable your comments. Nelson Mandella STOPPED South Africa from a civil war that seemed inevitable prior to his release. There were constant killings between the various factions in SA. When he was released he could have had the "revenge" killings that took place in Zimbawe ( formerly Rhodesia )...but no. he formed the Truth and RECONCILIATION commissions that reformed South Africia! Nelson Mandela was one of the world's greatest humaniatarians.

    • Dolf
      December 09, 2013 - 15:05

      "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone".

    • seanoairborne
      December 09, 2013 - 22:03

      Yeah!I hear yah!He cared about Black Africans but didn 't give a flip about Cubans or any other people in the world who were being brutalized and murdered wholesale by a bunch of bloodthirsty dictators!Okey,dokey,he should get a pass for not caring what happened to any other human beings besides those in only his part of the world.I got yah!LOL