Anneke Clarke By Anneke Clarke


Capital City: Ottawa

Prime Minister: Stephen Harper

Governor General: David Johnston

Currency: Canadian dollar

Area:  9,984,670 sq. km. Canada is the world's second-largest country in terms of total area

Population: 35.1 million (2013) World Bank

Life expectancy:  81.1 Years (2009)

Language: English and French (official)

Religion: Catholicism (38.7%); Protestant (29.2%); Non-religious (23.9%)

Ranked 8/187 in the Human Development Index (2014)

Ranked 16/189 in the Ease of Doing Business (World Bank 2015)


Some might find it surprising that Canada is the world’s second largest country – after Russia, based on total area.  In fact Canada was famously described by former Prime Minister, Mackenzie King as having “too much geography and not enough history.” Nevertheless, Canadian High Commissioner to South Africa H.E. Gaston Barban notes that Canada is a multicultural mosaic with half of the population of Toronto, the country’s largest city, being born abroad. He adds that Canada is highly ranked as a place to live which HC Barban credits to “good governance, democratic tradition, and a strong economy.”

H.E. Gaston Barban, Canadian High Commissioner to South Africa

Bilateral Relations
Canada and South Africa enjoy diplomatic relations dating back to 1939 and the two countries have maintained constructive engagement at bilateral and multilateral levels.  HC Barban stresses that the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria “is one of our most important missions on the continent. It is the nerve centre of our relations with the government of South Africa as well as Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Namibia.”

According to High Commissioner Barban, South Africa and Canada’s relationship is based on the common shared values of equality, democracy, peace, security and prosperity. He notes that the strong ties between the two countries are rooted partially in the leading role Canada played in international efforts to pressure South Africa to dismantle its apartheid system and promote the establishment of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, democratic society. Since South Africa's transition from apartheid and its first multi-racial elections in 1994, Canada-South Africa relations has been friendly and cooperative.

Post-1994, Canada supported South Africa's re-entry into a broad range of multilateral organisations and since then, the two countries have worked closely on important multilateral issues. It is worth noting that South Africa's 1996 Constitution and Bill of Rights draw heavily on Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “We funded a lot of capacity building for the new democratic South Africa. We also had teams come here as consultants in helping the South Africans put together the documents that are required to run a new country and amongst them was the constitution… Canada amended its constitution in the early 1980s so we were fresh from the experience and we brought our experts to South Africa,” HC Barban explained.

To solidify and enhance relations between Canada and South Africa, the two countries hold annual bilateral consultations on foreign policy, trade and development issues. These consultations cover issues as diverse as education and youth development, investment, mining, technical cooperation and defence relations. HC Barban reiterates that Canada and South Africa are “partners in trying to work towards a more secure world. I recently attended the AU Summit in Johannesburg where Canada is an observer. We see South Africa as a leading country in southern Africa and it can help in finding solutions to security challenges on the continent.”

Additionally both countries have signed a number of agreements and are likely to sign more in the coming months covering areas such as nuclear industrial cooperation, space agencies collaboration, and science and technology.

In the meantime, HC Barban notes that although South Africa is a middle-income country, it still faces many developmental challenges including the need to reduce social inequality and improve access to service delivery to marginalised populations, particularly women and children.  Canada’s assistance has been focussed on assisting South Africa to address these challenges by strengthening South Africa's public institutions. Canada has been working with central government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to:
•    Improve service delivery, particularly for poor and vulnerable populations, and especially women, children and youth;
•    Build the institutional capacity of South African government and civil society partners so as to promote greater accountability, transparency, and responsiveness;
•    Increase the capacity of local and national institutions to manage natural resources in a sustainable and responsible manner; and
•    Promote and maintain high standard skills, professionalism, ethics and integrity at all levels of government.

Importantly, Canada supports the South African National Development Plan “to make South Africa a better functioning state and bureaucracy for its people,” HC Barban says.

South Africa is a major gateway to the African market, and the country is one of Canada's most significant political and commercial partners in Africa. South Africa was identified as an “emerging market with broad Canadian interest” in Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan, launched in 2013. This means that Canada sees South Africa as “a country for commercial relations to cover many different sectors.”  

Along this vein, Canada is a significant investor in South Africa with investments largely focused on the mineral and mining sector, as well as transportation, food processing, hospitality, information and communication technologies, and instrumentation sectors. Top Canadian exports to South Africa include power generation machinery, electrical machinery, sulphur, optical equipment, pharmaceuticals, malt, pork and vehicles. South Africa’s exports to Canada include citrus, beverages (wine), nuclear machinery parts and minerals such as iron, titanium, chromium and copper.

2014 trade statistics between Canada and South Africa revealed that Canadian Exports to South Africa totalled $439,256,338 while imports amounted to $1,104,140,558 resulting in South Africa enjoying a trade surplus of $664,884,220. “South Africans would be pleased to know that it is Canadians buying South African products. While we would like to see it a bit more balanced in bilateral trade, an increase in total trade between the two countries is even more important,” HC Barban affirms.

In an effort to achieve this objective, HC Barban notes that Export Development Canada (EDC) is set to open an office in Johannesburg. “It is our national credit agency for export development. It is a bank that provides finance to those who want to import or do business with Canadian companies; so it is a credit facility. It is opening an office in Rosebank, Johannesburg around October this year co-locating with our Trade Office which promotes trade and investment between Canadian businesses and South Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Namibia,” he explains.


End of a Chapter
As HC Barban is set to complete his tour of duty in Pretoria he reflects on the last two and half years spent in South Africa with “its natural beauty and rich diversity.” He observes that South Africa is an “intellectually stimulating place to be” and has found it fascinating to see how “this country continues to develop towards a functioning democracy that everybody wants to see it become.” He adds that he has witnessed the growth in people-to-people relations with a strong flow of people both ways.
In looking to the future, HC Barban emphasises that there is room for the relationship to grow and, despite the geographic distance between Canada and South Africa, there is a common desire to broaden and deepen relations.

Anneke Clarke is a Jamaican freelance journalist based in Pretoria. Send feedback and comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.