Photo: Canadians must heed Nelson Mandela's message of peace, justice and reconciliation

Nelson Mandela addresses the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall. 22/Jun/1990 (Credit: United Nations Photo via Flickr)

By Faisal Moola, Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada

Renowned activist and global statesman Nelson Mandela died December 5 at the age of 95. Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years for his role in the struggle "for a democratic and free society, in which all persons will live together in harmony, and with equal opportunities," as he said at his trial. After his release in 1990, he became leader of the African National Congress and helped negotiate an end to apartheid, a system of brutally enforced racial segregation. He served as South Africa's president from 1994 to 1999.

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Though behind bars for much of his adult life, his disciplined struggle provided great strength and resolve for millions of South Africans who lived daily through the indignities of apartheid: forced separation of communities on the basis of race, banning of opposition newspapers and political gatherings, mass arrests, and even torture and extrajudicial murders of loved ones who stood in opposition to the government's racist policies.

That he emerged from incarceration without bitterness toward his captors to negotiate a peaceful end to apartheid and the enfranchisement of all South Africans, regardless of race or creed, was indicative of his remarkable personal drive to seek unity, healing and reconciliation.

These personal attributes of true leadership and compassion helped Nelson Mandela inspire the largest people-power movement in history. Millions of people around the world became aware of the anti-apartheid struggle and offered support with marches, strikes, peaceful civil disobedience, boycott campaigns and other tactics. In Canada, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Conservative government played a crucial role on the world stage by maintaining stiff economic sanctions against South Africa's government, despite pressure from Britain and the United States, which benefited from significant economic ties to that country's resource and weapons sectors.

Nelson Mandela was a true internationalist who used his influence as an elder statesman to speak out in support of human rights and self-determination of oppressed peoples around the world. His death reminds us that we need to carry forward the struggle against injustice wherever it is found, including here in Canada where close to half of all aboriginal children live below the poverty line, and the dream of reconciliation with indigenous peoples remains unrealized as long as governments refuse to honour treaties and international agreements to protect indigenous rights.

In 2001, the Government of Canada made Nelson Mandela a citizen to honour his lifetime of sacrifice in the struggle against apartheid. A far greater way to honour this great statesman is for Canadians to once again stand in the service of what is right and just, as we once did in helping to end apartheid, and fight for healing and reconciliation with Canada's aboriginal peoples here at home.

Faisal Moola is the Director-General for Ontario and Northern Canada. His parents were anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and members of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress movement.

December 6, 2013

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