Trudeau gives nod to Mulroney’s leadership on apartheid as elder Tory accepts highest honour


As former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney accepts South Africa’s highest honour, current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is acknowledging Mulroney’s leadership on apartheid.

Mulroney was awarded the Supreme Companion of O.R. Tambo award by the Government of South Africa, the highest possible award given to an outsider.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I would like to congratulate Mr. Brian Mulroney on being awarded the highest honour South Africa bestows upon foreign nationals,” says Trudeau.

“This prestigious award recognizes Mr. Mulroney’s exceptional contribution to South Africa’s liberation movement and his steadfast support for the release of Nelson Mandela.”

“Under the leadership of Mr. Mulroney, the Government of Canada strongly opposed apartheid, a system of racial segregation in South Africa that was at the centre of political violence in the country for decades.”

In a statement Trudeau points out that “Only four months after his release, Nelson Mandela travelled to Ottawa, Montréal and Toronto as a gesture of gratitude for Canada’s contribution. In 1998, Mr. Mandela became the first foreign leader to be awarded the Order of Canada. He later became the first living person to be awarded honourary Canadian citizenship in 2001.”

Stephen Lewis, then Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, told the Globe and Mail in an email interview that no one “should ever minimize Brian Mulroney’s passion for overturning apartheid.”

“He genuinely thought it one of the most evil systems on the planet. He had a real feeling for Mandela, and desperately wanted him out of jail, understanding that with Mandela’s freedom came South Africa’s liberation,” he told the Globe.

This led to a well-known clash with Mulroney on one side and Margaret Thatcher on the other at a Commonwealth meeting in 1987. As Lewis recalls to the Globe:

“I’ll never forget the way he went after Margaret Thatcher… with all the African leadership in the room,” Mr. Lewis said. It was scathing, unforgiving and memorable. I don’t think Thatcher had ever received such a tongue-lashing in her entire political life. I loved it. So did everyone else. He deserves the honour that South Africa is conferring upon him. And he won the lasting, devoted friendship of Nelson Mandela.”

Trudeau says that he is “very proud of the role Mr. Mulroney and Canada played in bringing an end to apartheid and helping Mr. Mandela’s fight for freedom.”