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1993: Canada lifts sanctions on trade with South Africa

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.

It's a turning point in South Africa's turbulent history. In light of that nation's progress towards ending apartheid, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela has asked the world to lift economic sanctions against his country. Shortly after Mandela's speech, Canada's External Affairs Minister Perrin Beatty announces that Canada is listening; it will lift all its non-military sanctions. This CBC radio clip reports on the momentous events of the day, and reviews Canada's history of fighting apartheid.
• Apartheid was South Africa's national program of racial segregation and discrimination. An evolving, increasingly oppressive set of rules was imposed on non-whites beginning when the National Party was elected in South Africa in 1948. Interracial marriages were forbidden, many jobs were listed as white-only, and only whites were allowed to vote.

• Canadians had been speaking out against apartheid since the 1950s. But it wasn't until December 1977 that "limited" sanctions were imposed.
• After becoming prime minister, Brian Mulroney began taking further action against South Africa's apartheid government, dramatically increasing economic and political sanctions in the mid-1980s.

• Mulroney has frequently been praised for his leadership in opposing apartheid. A 2005 Winnipeg Free Press article lauded him "for his absolutely consistent support for democratic rule in South Africa. Margaret Thatcher, who ran Britain while Mulroney ran Canada, opposed trade sanctions against the apartheid state of South Africa and so did many in European and U.S. business circles who supported white-minority rule for commercial reasons or for fear of revolution. Mulroney unswervingly backed sanctions and majority rule. History has proved that he was right and Thatcher was wrong."

• Although American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher had been very reluctant to impose sanctions on South Africa, by the late 1980s both countries were participating in some sort of economic sanction program.

• Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist in the African National Congress (ANC) before being put on trial for treason in 1956. He was acquitted in 1961, but was arrested again in 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. The following year he was tried for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison.

• While in prison, Mandela became a leader and a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. In 1990, he was finally released by South African President F.W. de Klerk.
• Soon after Mandela's release, the South African government lifted its state of emergency and began repealing its racially based land and population registration acts. In September 1991, President de Klerk outlined radical reforms that would lead to racial equality and all-race elections. His proposals were overwhelmingly endorsed by whites in a 1992 referendum.

• Mandela encouraged the continuation of international economic sanctions when he first got out of prison. But by Sept. 24, 1993 - after much progress had been made toward ending apartheid - he announced the time had come for the rest of the world to help repair the South African economy.
• The same day, Canada and other Commonwealth countries lifted their non-military sanctions outright, and the U.S. approved legislation to lift its sanctions.

• In the debate about the effectiveness of sanctions, South Africa is frequently raised as an example of sanctions working well. It is widely believed the sanctions put pressure on the country's government to end apartheid. "Perhaps the most effective sanctions of the modern era were enforced against South Africa, spurred by almost universal outrage over apartheid and supported even by many in South Africa who suffered from their effects," according to a 1998 Christian Science Monitor article.

• Just over 10 years after the lifting of international sanctions, The Economist wrote that South Africa's economy had improved somewhat but still had a long way to go: "The growth rate has more than doubled in the past decade, though that sounds better than it is. Misrule and international trade sanctions had kept the apartheid economy stagnant. Since 1994, average GDP growth has been 2.8 per cent a year - better, but not stellar, given population growth of perhaps two per cent."
Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Sept. 24, 1993
Guest(s): Perrin Beatty, Joe Clark, Nelson Mandela, Stephen Pincus
Reporter: Hal Jones, Trevor Rowe
Duration: 5:15

Last updated: November 21, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2012

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