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Can Canadian sanctions against South Africa affect business?

For almost 50 years, South Africa was ruled by apartheid — a brutal system of racial separation that kept the nation's black majority in poverty while a white minority held the wealth and power. As unrest grew, South Africa seemed destined for a bloodbath. Canada — like many nations — was slow to react but, by the 1980s, assumed a leading role in forcing economic sanctions against South Africa. Canadian business people, activists and clergy also played parts in bringing about all-race elections in 1994, and a surprisingly peaceful end to apartheid.

South Africans receive less than one per cent of Canada's exports, but External Affairs Minister Joe Clark is cutting them off regardless. It's a move he hopes will put economic pressure on the South African government. But some say it will only hurt Canadian companies and poor blacks in South Africa. In this clip from The Journal, business leaders and analysts discuss whether banning liquor, fruit and television programs like The Nature of Things can change the world.
• Until the 1980s the Canadian government had engaged in a lot of tough talk and relatively little concrete action opposing apartheid. Canadian churches, unions and media had been busiest in attracting attention to the issue. When the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984, Canada's official anti-apartheid stand was toughened.

• Beginning in 1985 Canada began monitoring compliance with the 1978 voluntary code of conduct governing Canadian companies operating in South Africa. It also cut off insurance for Canadian exports to South Africa, restricted strategic exports to the South African government and banned arms trade and new investment.


• The measures were not full, mandatory sanctions, and had little practical effect. The loan ban didn't affect $200 million in existing loans; Code of Conduct monitors had no enforcement powers.
• In 1985 South Africa was Canada's 26th-largest export market, with exports of $200 million a year. Canada actually had a trade deficit with South Africa, importing $222 million in goods.

• In September 1985, all members of the European Economic Community except Great Britain imposed a ban on oil sales, arm sales and future nuclear cooperation, and withdrew all military attachés. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ardently opposed sanctions against South Africa.
• In October 1985 the Commonwealth Accord on South Africa called for the dismantling of apartheid, and established an international system of sanctions. Canada imposed an import ban the following year.

• Alcan Aluminium Ltd. had a minority interest in a South African company that made products for the military. In 1982 a group of church members bought Alcan shares in an effort to convince the company to disinvest. After lobbying (and being rejected) at three successive annual meetings, Alcan withdrew from South Africa.

• 1988 figures showed that despite the calls for sanctions, Canada's trade with South Africa actually increased.
• The South African government responded to international sanctions by taking action against its neighbouring countries. It expelled one million black "guest workers" from South Africa and cut off transportation and trade links. In addition, it made it clear that any South African who suggested sanctions had committed a treasonable offence.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 10, 1985
Guest(s): Glenn Babb, Arthur Bruneau, Joe Clark, Linda Freeman, Brian Mulroney, Bob Phillips
Host: Barbara Frum, Keith Morrison
Reporter: Sheila MacVicar
Duration: 10:03

Last updated: July 9, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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