Growing up and being schooled in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in a keen awareness of the fact that the country we lived in was a key player in the world's supply of many natural resources. Gold, diamonds, coal, uranium and iron to name a few. Writ large across the country's history were the names of Cecil John Rhodes, Barney Barnato and in more recent times such royal families of mineral exploration as the Oppenheimers.
From the start the scramble for mineral fortunes was reflected by both the obvious benefits to the individual adventurers from Europe and the pain and indignity forced upon the indigenous peoples of this newly occupied region. That is all behind us now. The resources themselves however remain in abundance.
Canada, while successfuly hiding the negative impact of the British and the French adventurers in the form of early trappers and later the Hudson Bay Company, is the home of an equally rich reserve of resources, almost matching if not beating South Africa in terms of natural wealth. As a team on the international resource stage, the combination of these two nations presents a formidable partnership.
Such an alliance would be built not simply on the resources themselves, but on the knowledge, skills and experience that has developed through the channels of the corporate and academic organizations in both countries. Relative economic stability, threatened only by the Boer War, two world wars and in the case of South Africa, the troubled era of Apartheid, has meant that these two countries have been able to advance their technologies at a faster pace than most other sovereignties with the exception perhaps of the United States. Russia and China while promising greater natural wealth remain less capable of mineral exploration and exploitation and politically less stable.
Today South Africa's interest rates, while still high, are coming closer in line with their peer countries such as Canada, consequently opening the doors to smoother future cooperation.
As early as the late 1970s South African entrepreneurs saw the potential for Canada as a shelter from, it seemed, South Africa's uncertain future. Interestingly too was the arrival in Canada of white Rhodesians who felt even more threatened in Africa than their kinsfolk in South Africa. The Rhodesians, it turns out, had more to fear than the South Africans.
By the time the 1990s rolled around and even more so in this new century, the presence of South African resource specialists and the companies who employ them has grown dramatically in Canada. It seems that the foundations for a strong partnership has already been laid. Curiously, there is little or no evidence of any concious political drive to initiate, support or promote this partnership. Canadian politicians are as much to blame as their South African counterparts.
The two countries could probably benefit from snuggling up closer to one another than they they have so far. South Africa and Canada have much to offer one another. Science, technology, communications, humanities, housing, social services, commerce and trade, political and corporate governance, medicine, transport, international trade, sustainable growth, urban development, aerospace, arts and culture.
Canada has helped South Africa in two strangely oriented, perhaps opposing ways. Canada has historically voiced its public opposition to the Apartheid system in the United Nations (while, it must be said, supporting its own equivalent apartheid-lile policies with respect to Canada's indigenous peoples) and on the other side of the equation Canada has welcomed many white South African immigrants who fled the uncertainties of South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. This migration, while driven intitially by fear, may now prove beneficial to both countries.
Given the ambiguities of NAFTA and the inward-looking policies of Washington and Congress, combined with a less than welcome US attitude towards the United nations, it seems to this observer that the time for South Africa and Canada to form stronger trade and political ties is upon us. Combine these two remnants of the Commonwealth and then add in the presence of a powerful Europe and the future, to this observer a least, seems a lot brighter.