OTTAWA – Nelson Mandela is being remembered in Canada for his wisdom and fearless fight against racism. As it turned out, Canada also occupied a special place in Mandela’s heart in later years.
Mandela never forgot the help he received from Canada — and from former prime minister Brian Mulroney — in his epic fight for freedom, said Stephen Lewis, Canada’s former United Nations ambassador under Mulroney.
“It’s fair to say that Mandela was deeply attached to Canada,” recalled Lewis, who visited Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, numerous times between 2001 and 2009 in South Africa.
All Mandela ever wanted to talk about was Canada, and Mulroney, said Lewis.
One of a half-dozen honorary Canadian citizens, the man known affectionately as “Madiba” died Thursday at age 95.
“He had a tremendous affection and regard for our former prime minister who did do a really major job in the work to overthrow apartheid and have Mandela released,” Lewis said in an interview.
“And Mandela never forgot that. He always saw in Canada an ally that he trusted and, in a way, loved.”
Mulroney, who broke ranks with other western leaders in the 1980s to lead the fight against the apartheid regime that included strict economic sanctions, said with Mandela’s passing “a precious light has gone out in the world,” but that his spirit would live forever.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the world had lost one of its great moral leaders and statesmen.
“He demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness,” said Harper, who described Mandela’s forbearance as “legendary.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said he is one of countless millions to draw inspiration from Mandela’s life.
“The first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.”
Mulroney called him one of the giants of our time.
“Let us remember though, that nothing can extinguish the flame of freedom he lit in South Africa. Nothing will dim the power of his message of tolerance, of integrity, and statesmanship,” Mulroney said in a statement.
“That his legacy will continue to nourish the spirit of everyone who struggles for justice and freedom anywhere. That the dream of Nelson Mandela will never die.”
Mandela’s spirit melted away partisan bickering in the House of Commons on Thursday night as members of all parties united in silence to honour his memory.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called Mandela an intelligent man who cared for his people.
“He was a source of inspiration for all — from the most humble and impoverished to the world’s most powerful,” Mulcair said in a statement.
“The light that he brought to the world will continue to shine long after him.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau added that Mandela offered hope and inspiration to millions.
“Truly a citizen of the world, Nelson Mandela’s contribution to world freedom is simply unparalleled, and he will forever occupy a place in the hearts, minds and imaginations of people across the globe.”
Reaction to Mandela’s death from all corners of Canada streamed onto social media.
On Twitter, former Liberal leader Bob Rae called Mandela a truly great man who was simple and direct.
“Disciplined, passionate, caring, funny, courageous, compassionate, generous” were some of the other words Rae used to describe Mandela.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Mandela’s life will continue to serve as a beacon for change.
“There are few people who have done more to inspire the world than Nelson Mandela, and I am deeply saddened to learn of his death,” Wynne said in a statement.
Junior foreign affairs minister Deepak Obhrai, born and raised in Tanzania, also offered some of the federal government’s initial condolences, and heartfelt personal reflection.
“As I grew up Tanzania became independent and the southern states in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe as you call it today, South Africa, were mired in complete anti-apartheid based on race,” he said.
“I grew up in a country that was fighting and it had a tremendous impact on my life to say that it is very important to fight for dignity and human beings.”