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Former prime minister Jean Chretien walks past former prime minister Brian Mulroney in the box for the Canadian delegation at the memorial for Nelson Mandela Tuesday December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Former prime minister Jean Chretien walks past former prime minister Brian Mulroney in the box for the Canadian delegation at the memorial for Nelson Mandela Tuesday December 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

From Canada’s delegation, Redford and Cotler reflect on deep connections to Mandela Add to ...

Just hours after Nelson Mandela’s memorial – which drew tens of thousands of South Africans, along with world leaders and a global television audience in the millions – members of the official Canadian delegation reflected on being inside the soccer stadium and the man who delivered South Africa from apartheid.

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“I never thought that his day would come. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to be here,” said Alberta Premier Alison Redford during a conference call with reporters, her voice choked with emotion.

“I’m not sure that I would say that I enjoyed being here – for me it was a funeral and a loss. But I’m honoured to be here and I’m very grateful to the prime minister for setting up the invitations the way that he did,” added Ms. Redford.

Ms. Redford worked in South Africa in the 1990s, alongside Nelson Mandela and with a team of legal experts helping shape the post-apartheid legal system and constitution that would eventually lead to the country’s first democratic elections – and Mr. Mandela becoming the first president of a new South Africa.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler joined the Canadian delegation to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Mr. Cotler worked with Mr. Mandela’s legal team during the anti-apartheid activist’s years in prison.

“It sounds banal to say that it was very moving, because I guess you would hear that from most people. But it was as much a celebration of his life as it was the mourning of his passing. It was very much a set of tributes from all those who spoke, and I think there was 100 countries that were represented today,” Mr. Cotler said.

He said the Canadian delegation was warned before leaving the hotel Tuesday morning that there might be an administrative delay in getting accreditation for the ceremony but he said it wasn’t an issue when the group arrived.

“In effect, the long walk to freedom is not over. It may be at this point that he’s gone to his resting place, it’s now the responsibility of South Africans individually and collectively to internalize his messages and his values and to build the kind of South Africa that he was aspiring for on their behalf,” Mr. Cotler said.

Inside the stadium, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski tweeted several ‘selfies’ - one with his fellow premiers and a second with four beaming former prime ministers and a governor general.

For Premier Redford, the South Africa trip has been filled with “flashbacks” from her time in the country – whether it is the development of the African National Congress as the country’s main political force or Mr. Mandela’s evolution as a leader who held the country together after the apartheid years.

“It really struck me when I walked in [to the stadium] because that was a place where I’ve been to other political meetings before – and to walk in there, to know that he wasn’t going to get up on that stage was really hard. I was surprised how sad it made me,” she said.

Mr. Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days in the capital Pretoria beginning Wednesday. On Sunday, he will be buried in his ancestral village of Qunu.

With a file from Carrie Tait

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