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CAN-SA Relations – Moving Forward

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The Canada-South Africa Colloquium was a resounding success with over 30 official participants and an additional 40 attendees. In all the two days came together nicely.  Indeed, I was particularly pleased with how cohesive the panels were despite the diversity in perspectives and backgrounds that were represented.  I really have to thank the presenters and chairs for the quality work that they brought to the event.  It would not have been possible without them.

The two days explored a number of different topics related to the historical relationship between the countries, trade and investment, cooperation in such activities as the Kimberly Process, South African Diaspora in Canada,  South African representation in the Canadian media, the development assistance provided by CIDA, IDRC and other non-governmental organizations, and the implications of the emergence of BRICS and South Africa’s role in that.

It is clear that the vociferousness and consistency of Canada’s opposition to the Apartheid regime can be contested through examining the timing and commercial engagement with Apartheid South Africa.  However, the work undertaken in the immediate decline of the undemocratic and racist regime, and in the immediate context after its demise, was exemplary and created much goodwill between the two countries.  This is something that Canadians should be proud of and feel good about.  Likewise, this should act as an excellent launching pad for building closer political and economic ties with Africa’s most stable and prosperous country.

Alas, despite the best efforts of Canadian representatives on the ground in Pretoria, this has simply not happened.  A combination of a lack of focus towards Africa, an inability on the part of the current Harper Government to realize the changing tides of the international system, and the insignificance of Canada in a growing South Africa from an economic perspective results in a disconnected, uneasy and fraught relationship between the two countries.

On the South African side, the focus on its BRICS partnership, its commitment to the African Renaissance and its own internal politics with the ANC does result in foreign policy focus being placed elsewhere.

One thing that was clear from all involved – including Canada’s High Commissioner and the Chief Director for North America at South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation – is that this must change.

Indeed – it seems like the will is there, the desire exists…but will the political leadership take the chance?  We only hope.

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