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Canada's former prime ministers have been invited to attend the memorial for South African leader Nelson Mandela. (Aaron Harris/Canadian Press)

All of Canada's former prime ministers have been invited to be part of this country's delegation to Johannesburg for the memorial of Nelson Mandela next Tuesday.

The memorial service will be held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. The Canadian delegation may continue on to Pretoria to pay their respects as Mandela lies in state. 

The state funeral for Mandela, who died at his home on Thursday, will be held Dec. 15 at Qunu, Eastern Cape province.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who indicated he will join the delegation, said Mandela was a "genuinely great and important figure on the world stage, and we’ll never see anybody like him again."

In an interview with CBC's The House, Mulroney recounted his conflicts with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1985 over how to deal with South Africa. Mulroney favoured economic sanctions against the apartheid regime, something both Reagan and Thatcher opposed.

Mulroney recalled a conversation with Reagan in which the president expressed his reservations about Mandela, labelling him a communist. 

"And I said, 'Well, how would you know that? He’s been in jail for 27 years. Unless you’ve been talking to him recently you wouldn’t have a clue about his feelings. And all I can say is that I don’t either, but if I were in jail for 27 years and you refused to help me, but Castro did help me through his government and his agencies, then I’d be supporting him when I got out. So you fellows better be careful that you don’t put your countries on the wrong side of history on this matter."

Mulroney said he had a similar frank conversation with Thatcher at a Commonwealth meeting in Vancouver in 1987.

 "I said ... what do you think the world would say if four million blacks were holding 35 million whites hostage in Canada and we didn’t have any rights and we didn't have any privileges and we couldn't vote and we didn't have any jobs, no health care, no future, no opportunity? What the hell do you think people would say? 

"Margaret took offence at that and I said, 'You shouldn't take offence to that, it's the exact converse of what's happening in South Africa today, and we have to act."

The former prime minister said that he had no doubt that Reagan and Thatcher viewed apartheid with the same vitriol and hatred as Canada, but they just didn't believe sanctions would work.

"We felt that sanctions were the most immediate and effective way to go and we pressed forward with that," Mulroney said.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, whose government made Mandela an honorary citizen, recalled the first time he and his wife sat down for dinner with Mandela.

"My wife and I were intimidated, but we didn’t admit it," he said in an interview with The House.

"This guy managed to convince the country to stop apartheid and elect him as president and after that he said to everybody we’re all brothers, forget about the past, look at the future."

Chrétien said he admired Mandela's tenacity and perseverance, adding that he had a good sense of humour.

"When I announced my resignation he sent me a message telling me he was unhappy with me, because he said, 'Now I’m a Canadian citizen, I will not have the occasion to vote for you."