Interview: Peter Braid reflects on Canada’s relationship with Mandela

Canadian MP Peter Braid from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario traveled to South Africa as part of the official Canadian delegation to pay final respects to Nelson Mandela at his memorial in December 2013. I had a chance to sit down with MP Braid earlier this year to talk about his experience in South Africa, Canada’s historic relationship with Nelson Mandela, and his role in creating the Nelson Mandela Memorial Scholarship Fund to benefit both African and Canadian students as a fitting tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. 

Sarah Stone: Mandela had a special affection for Canada, what does his legacy mean for Canada and Canadians?

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Peter Braid: Canada, in the late 1980s, played a significant leadership role in the fight against apartheid and the plight of Nelson Mandela.  Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney took this issue on as a signature foreign policy and went toe to toe with other world leaders to bring them on board such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Photo caption: MP Peter Braid signing the book of condolences on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Photo Credit: Peter Braid

Canada’s role was so significant that when Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, the country he chose to visit first was Canada, and I was pleased to be part of that visit during a state dinner in Toronto in his honor.  Having been to South Africa twice last year, I have experienced firsthand how highly regarded the relationship is between Mr. Mandela and Canada by Africans.

SS: What was it like being at Nelson Mandela’s memorial?

PB: It was surreal being part of huge global event moment of history and be a member of the eminent group of Canadians fortunate to be associated with the delegation.  There were so many former prime ministers and governor-generals across party lines. It occurred to me that even after Mandela’s death his powers of unifying continued.  Clearly it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I was very privileged to be part of such a critically important moment in history.

I felt honoured to be there on behalf of my constituents in Kitchener-Waterloo and Canada and to pay respects to such an important political figure and in my mind the most important global icon and political figure of our lifetime. While we were there the focus of our time was the memorial and the following day to pay respects to Mr. Mandela lying in state.

photo-2Bono meeting former Canadian Prime ministers Jean Chretien (left) and Brian Mulroney (middle) at the Mandela Memorial In South Africa, Photo Credit: Peter Braid

While there was a tinge of grief, primarily it was joy, jubilation, and extreme gratitude for the life Mandela led and the freedom he achieved and for his long walk on behalf of South Africans.

When the Canadian delegation met Bono, Bono approached former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien and expressed to them his belief that  “the world needs more of Canada.”

I had my moment with Mr. Mandela where I thanked him for his contributions to humanity. Streets and parks and schools around the world will be named after Nelson Mandela but the most important monument we could build in his memory is a to build a greater society.

SS: Talk about the Mandela Scholarship fund – you must have been so pleased to have Prime Minister Harper announce this initiative in South Africa. 

PB: A few years ago, in my first meeting with Prime Minister Harper after re-election, Mandela was 93 years old and I suggested to the Prime Minister that a scholarship fund would be a great way for Canadians to celebrate life and legacy of Mandela.

Prime Minister Harper was immediately supportive of the concept wanted me to work on it with officials from the Prime Minister’s office, and it was finalized 18 months ago and was being held until the passing of Mandela for the scholarship to be announced.

I was particularly proud that at the end of the trip to South Africa, the Prime Minister announced in Pretoria at the high commissioners’ residence that the Mandela scholarships will include two streams.  The first stream will have bright young African student leaders of tomorrow come to Canada to study at graduate or post-graduate level, and the second stream, which I was more involved in originally, is a concept which includes Canadian graduates and post-graduates who are studying matters related to the ideals that reflect the values of Mandela: specifically national reconciliation, human rights, democracy and the role of children in society.

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Stadium during the Mandela Memorial, Photo Credit: Peter Braid

I was particularly proud to see this come to fruition and have the support of the PM and to have a mechanism for all Canadians to celebrate the life and legacy of Mandela in a meaningful way. It was important to me because as previously mentioned Canadians have a special relationship and history with Mandela and South Africa.

It was not only our Prime Minister and government at the time who were advocating for Mandela’s release, it was an issue that everyday Canadians got behind including church groups, civil society groups, union groups were all aligned to see Mandela released and apartheid end so for these reasons and also because of our special relationship as Canadians – Mr. Mandela visited Canada three times and in 1990 he was made an honourary citizen (one of six people total) and he also received the Order of Canada and two Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee medals. For all of these reasons and the special relationship that we have with Nelson Mandela and South Africa and on behalf of Canadians, it is so important to me to celebrate him in this important way.

Thank you MP Peter Braid for taking the time to speak to ONE. Learn more about Canada’s Mandela Scholarship Fund here

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