Skip to main content

In this photo supplied by the Government Communications and Information Services (GCIS) South African President Jacob Zuma, right, and Governor General of Canada, David Johnston attend a welcoming ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday, May 21, 2013.Elmond Jiyane/The Associated Press

Government officials in South Africa are right to express unhappiness with Canada's policy of placing visa restrictions on members of the African National Congress. The policy – a vestige of the turbulent anti-apartheid battles of the past – is outdated and counter-productive. Canada should remove it from its books quickly.

The issue arose in Cape Town on Tuesday during a four-day visit to South Africa by David Johnston, the governor-general of Canada. It is mostly a symbolic matter at this point; no ANC member has been denied entry into Canada for over a year, according to Canadian officials. It is the fact that some ANC officials and party members are still on what amount to criminal and terrorist watchlists that is irksome to South Africa, and Canada officials seem to unanimously agree that it is a mistake.

"We understand how they feel," Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said this week. Speaking in Cape Town, Mr. Johnston said it was a "terrible tragedy" and a "slip-up" that an ANC member was once denied entry into Canada because he had been a political prisoner during the apartheid-resistance era, and was therefore considered to have a criminal record.

That the policy still exists is all the more surprising given that the great ANC hero, Nelson Mandela, is one of only five people upon whom Canada has bestowed honorary citizenship. That honour would imply, among other things, that the ANC's past advocacy of violence in the fight against apartheid has been, if not forgiven, at least seen in its rightful context by the Canadian government. To continue to single out lesser members of the ANC makes even less sense in this light.

South Africa is Canada's third-largest trading partner in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Canadian companies have billions invested in mining assets there. Its government has been complaining for years about the visa restrictions on ANC members, to no avail. The time has come to remove this irritant once and for all.