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December 2001

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Canada honours Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Becomes Honorary Canadian Citizen

By Rohit Kumar


On November 19, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became the first living recipient of honorary Canadian citizenship. He joins Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis before dying in a Soviet prison camp, on a list of two genuine heroes. Raoul Wallenberg was given the honor posthumously.


In a simple ceremony at the Museum of Civilization, Mandela swayed gently to the sounds of a Zulu hymn of freedom, performed by a choir of children, as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien conferred the honorary citizenship in accordance with motions by the Commons and Senate, in recognition of Mandela's leadership in defeating apartheid in South Africa and praised Mandela for triumphing over the suffering of Africa by successfully challenging fear and ignorance.


Mandela, the former South African President, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, is credited with ending apartheid and achieving a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa. He refused to compromise on his conviction that equality must prevail and was forced to pay the terrible price of 27 years in solitary confinement before being freed in the run up to the country's first democratic elections, which he won. Mandela found tolerance, generosity and a lasting commitment to freedom.


Despite all that Mandela had lost, he maintained his humanity. "I knew that people expected me to harbour anger toward whites," he wrote in his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. "But I had none. In prison, my anger toward whites decreased, but my hatred for the system grew."


"In your long march to liberty and justice, you have waged an epic combat against fear and ignorance," Mr. Chrétien told him before a cheering crowd. "You have triumphed… Today, you are doing us the greatest honour of all by accepting our invitation to join the Canadian family."


Mr. Mandela, who was accompanied by his wife, Graca Machel, who he married on his 80th birthday, accepted the citizenship on behalf of all South Africans.


In his acceptance speech, Mandela said, "We have difficulty finding the words to describe the depths of our appreciation to be made an honorary citizen of this great country… We are deeply humbled to accept this honour on behalf of the people of South Africa, and, if we may be so presumptuous, the people of Canada, as well."

"The government of my country of birth did not regard or treat me as a citizen," he said. "In fact, the main energies of the state authorities of my country were directed towards the stripping of those like me -- a majority of the population -- from any vestiges of citizenship. We mention those facts not in rancour, but in celebration of how we have progressed as a country and in the world."


"Your respect for diversity within your own society and your tolerant and civilized manner of dealing with the challenges of difference and diversity have always been an inspiration," he said. "It can also not escape us that this high honour is being bestowed by a leading country of the industrialized North on a citizen of Africa."


Mandela said Canada had provided a model for architects of post-apartheid government in his country. "It is for that reason that our institutions of democracy carry so many marks of the Canadian model," he added.


Mandela requested Canada's help in peace negotiations in Congo, saying that the appointed mediator does not have sufficient funding to bring all the factions together for talks.


"As long as any part of our world languishes in conditions of severe poverty, deprivation and suffering, the common security of all of us is compromised and under threat,” he said. "An awareness of that global interconnectedness and responsibility has always been a feature of Canadian political and public life."


Referring to the current situation in the world, Mandela repeated his opinions on the use of violence to achieve political aims.


"But when the oppressor tightens the screws of oppression and uses force to suppress the legitimate aspirations of the oppressed, the lesson of history throughout the world, right down through the ages, is that the oppressed take up arms, not because they become terrorists, but their struggle is just.


"That was the nature of our struggle," he said, referring to the role of the African National Congress in the fight against apartheid. "Any other struggle that follows that pattern is not a terrorist struggle," he told reporters after the speech.

Not only in Afghanistan but also in the Mideast, in Africa, and in Europe, Mr. Mandela's message is more relevant than ever. "As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Armies can do only so much. In the end, as he reminds us, our best hope for liberation lies within.


Ms Machel, on receiving an honorary degree from Ryerson University in Toronto, spoke about the hardships faced by the world's children, despite the world being at a time of extraordinary technological breakthroughs and unprecedented wealth.

"Why is it that we can mobilize vast resources to fund wars but we cannot mobilize adequate funds to protect children throughout the world?" she asked.

She also chided Canada for falling short of the foreign development target agreed upon by industrialized nations, which currently sits at 0.7 per cent of gross national product. Machel said Canada's assistance spending is only 0.25 per cent of GNP.


Mandela, on his third trip to Canada, is using it in part to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which he began by contributing one-third of his presidential salary.


Bahadur Madhani, who was awarded the Order of Canada, earlier this year, was was appointed President of the "Nelson Mandela Children's Fund in Canada".

The primary focus of the fund is the HIV-AIDS epidemic in Africa. It's estimated that the disease has created 13.2 million orphans, of whom 95 per cent live in Africa.


In Toronto, Heather Reisman, chief executive officer of Indigo Books & Music Inc., and her husband, Gerry Schwartz, CEO of Onex Corp., hosted a $5,000-a-ticket fundraiser; the proceeds will go to the children's charity established by Mr. Mandela.  Investment bankers, media titans and political icons including the chief executive officer of every major Canadian bank attended this. Bahadur Madhani, recipient of Order of Canada, and Suresh Bhalla, a movie producer and property developer, were amongst them.


Mandela's words, "The struggle is my life," are not to be taken lightly.