Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer salutes as South African President Jacob Zuma (R) arrives at Pearson International Airport to attend the G8 and G20 Summits in Toronto June 24, 2010. Zuma is scheduled to participate in the group of eight outreach session during the G8 Summit in Huntsville.


When guests from around the world were invited to the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's political party this year, Canada was conspicuous by its absence.

Despite often boasting of its historic support for the anti-apartheid struggle, Canada's diplomats didn't show up at the centenary celebrations for the ruling African National Congress – the biggest event on South Africa's political calendar so far this year.

The diplomats say their invitation simply arrived too late. But their perceived snub of the ANC anniversary has sparked criticism here, exposing the neglect and misperceptions that now hamper Canada's relationship with Africa's wealthiest country.

Story continues below advertisement

With the left-wing ANC increasingly looking east to China, and with the right-wing Harper government seeing Africa as a pet project of the previous Liberal government, the former partners are slowly drifting apart, dogged not just by ideological differences but also festering disputes over everything from the Libya war to climate policy.

"I was perplexed by not seeing the Canadians at the anniversary," said Oscar van Heerden, a former ANC official who is now a political analyst. "The invitation was simply not honoured. The ANC were a bit dumbfounded. When I looked across the VIP rooms, it was quite striking that Canada's representatives were not there."

Canadian officials say their official invitation to the January event arrived at the last minute, due to ANC organizational disarray, and they could not spare any diplomats because of a visiting trade delegation. But many other Western countries had the same delay in their invitations and still managed to attend.

If you ask Canadian diplomats to recall the last visit to South Africa by a Canadian foreign minister, you're met with blank stares. Canada has not sent a foreign minister to South Africa for a remarkable 13 years, even though South Africa is a G20 member and a key gateway to the rest of Africa.

Everyone agrees there is vast potential for close relations between the two countries. Canada led the fight for Commonwealth sanctions against the apartheid regime in the mid-1980s, earning praise from South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. Its diplomats pushed for human rights in the late 1980s, visiting more than 100 black townships and churches to support the struggle for freedom.

After the fall of apartheid in 1994, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became a model for the drafting of South Africa's constitution, and Nelson Mandela became only the second person in history to be awarded honorary Canadian citizenship.

Yet since then, the relationship has deteriorated into apathy and neglect. Canada's image in South Africa today is defined not by its anti-apartheid work but by the notorious saga of Brandon Huntley, the white South African who was given refugee status in Canada in 2009 when he claimed to be persecuted by black criminals.

Story continues below advertisement

In an equally odd gesture, Canada has maintained a visa ban on ANC leaders, requiring them to apply for special exemptions if they want to visit. Meanwhile, the two countries have found themselves on opposite sides of the diplomatic fence on a host of global issues, including Libya, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Israel. And they clashed again last year when South Africa blasted the government of Stephen Harper for its hostility to the Kyoto climate treaty.

"We're concerned about the apparent possible direction of the Canadian government," said a senior South African government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The political disputes are accompanied by weak trade links. Canada receives only 0.7 per cent of South Africa's exports, compared to 2.6 per cent in the 1970s. And it supplies only 0.8 per cent of South Africa's imports, compared to 1.4 per cent when apartheid ended. South Africa is increasingly drifting away from Western countries like Canada and shifting its interests to China and other Asian countries.

Despite its strong anti-apartheid efforts in the 1980s, "Canada hasn't been able to link this goodwill to any substantive relationship with South Africa," said Edward Akuffo, a political scientist and Africa specialist at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C.

"Canada has generally put Africa on the margins of its foreign policy, and that has an impact on its relationship with South Africa," he said.

David Hornsby, a Canadian lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, describes the relations between the two countries as "disconnected, uneasy and fraught." In his conversations with South Africa's International Relations Department, he has heard South African officials wondering if the two countries are still partners, given the lack of attention paid by Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

"Canada and South Africa are like ships passing in the night," said Mr. Hornsby, who organized an academic conference last month on relations between the two countries.

"They really just aren't connecting on important international questions any more," he added. "We don't have a prime minister who's at all interested in Africa, and that's tying the hands of our diplomats."

Since becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Harper has made only a single visit to sub-Saharan Africa, and he has shifted Canada's foreign aid away from most African countries, preferring to give priority to Latin America.

Another problem is that Canada may have exaggerated its importance to the anti-apartheid movement. In fact, Canada's decision to join the anti-apartheid battle under former prime minister Brian Mulroney was "late, limited and overblown," according to Linda Freeman, a Carleton University political scientist who has written a book on the subject.

When personalities such as Mr. Mandela and Mr. Mulroney disappeared from the political stage, the Canadian "love affair" with South Africa soon faded, she said. "With Harper, it's completely gone out of the window," Prof. Freeman said. "The good historical record has been torpedoed."

Mr. van Heerden, the former ANC official, said he simply can't understand it. "We don't see very much coming from the Canadians, compared to previous years," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's not that South Africa wants to be there with a begging bowl, but we've worked together before, we've got a success story – why are you not coming to the party any longer?"

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies