CBC Digital Archives

1990: Nelson Mandela addresses Canadian Parliament

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's life began in a tiny village in South Africa, which he describes as "removed from the world of great events." It was the start of a life that would not only take part in great events, but help shape them. His extraordinary life has led him from being branded a terrorist in his own country and a 27-year imprisonment to taking office as South Africa's first democratically elected president and becoming an international symbol of peace and social justice. The CBC Digital Archives brings you a look back at the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela.

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 After 27 years in prison, the world's most famous political prisoner is free. Nelson Mandela, vice president of the African National Congress, is released from prison on February 11, 1990 and plunges into an international campaign to end apartheid in his native South Africa. Four months later, Mandela travels to Canada and delivers a speech at a joint session of Parliament.

Mandela begins by pointing out the irony that he cannot address Parliament in his own country. He thanks Canada for offering a fleeting taste of freedom he hopes his own people will soon enjoy. Canada is imposing sanctions against South Africa's white minority government, and for many Mandela is a symbol of the international struggle against racism.

Nelson Mandela is the first foreign citizen invited to address the Canadian Parliament in 40 years who is neither a head of parliament nor a head of state.

• Nelson Mandela's birth-name was Rolihlahla, which means "troublemaker." He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and fought against the apartheid politics of South Africa's ruling National Party. Apartheid was a policy of segregation and discrimination against non-whites.

• Mandela was put on trial for treason in 1956 and was acquitted in 1961. The government banned the ANC in 1960.

• Mandela was the ANC's deputy national president when the party was banned. He argued for the formation a military wing of the party and the use of violence if necessary.

• Mandela was arrested again in 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. The following year he was put on trial with other ANC leaders for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison.

• Mandela spent 27 years in jail, much of it at the notorious Robben Island Prison. On several occasions he was offered release if he renounced violence, but he rejected the offers.

• In prison Nelson Mandela became a leader and philosopher, and a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. In 1990 he was released by South African president F.W. de Klerk, who also lifted bans on political organizations and pledged to work with Mandela to end apartheid.

• In 1993 de Klerk and Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1991, at the first ANC national conference allowed inside South Africa since the organization was banned, Mandela was elected president of the ANC.

• In 1994 Mandela was elected president of South Africa. He stepped down in 1999.

• In 1961 Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker joined other Commonwealth leaders in denouncing racial discrimination and apartheid in Commonwealth countries. The United Nations urged sanctions against South Africa from 1962 until 1994 but Canada maintained economic ties with South Africa until 1977. A massacre in Soweto and the death of student leader Steven Biko prompted Canada, which had become a part of the United Nations Security Council, to impose "limited economic sanctions" against South Africa.

• In 1984, as unrest in South Africa grew, Brian Mulroney became Canada's prime minister and took further actions against South Africa's apartheid government. In 1985 and 1986 the Canadian government dramatically beefed up their economic and political sanctions, and kept them until apartheid was ended in 1994.

• Canada's Meech Lake Accord on constitutional reform died in June 1990, just before Mandela's visit to Canada. Despite the failure of the accord, Mandela said he was inspired by compromises that had been reached. "We too must be inspired by this manner of proceedings so that we also reach agreement about our own constitution as speedily as possible, in the interest of all the people of our country," Mandela said.

• Nelson Mandela visited Canada again in 1998, when he spoke with more than 40,000 children at Toronto's SkyDome. He called Canada his "home away from home."

• In 1998 Nelson Mandela became the first foreign leader to be appointed as an honourary Companion of the Order of Canada.

• During his third visit to Canada in 2001, Mandela received a doctorate of law from Ryerson University, and became the first living recipient of honourary Canadian citizenship. Canada's only other honourary citizen was Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was given the honour posthumously for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1990
Host: Alan Maitland
Duration: 4:39

Last updated: January 31, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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