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As Canadians spend the week marking their country's close ties with Nelson Mandela, the celebrations have obscured a troubling reality — a steady decline in relations with South Africa.

The current state of the Canada-South Africa relationship adds a darker hue to the bright portrait that has been painted since Mandela's death last week — particularly the support of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in helping win Mandela's freedom, and the considerable development assistance Canada gave his post-apartheid government.

The decline started after Mandela left the presidency in 1999, and was marked by a general diplomatic drift away from the African continent,...

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