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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel
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Nelson Mandela, one of the world's most respected and admired statesmen, has set himself a new challenge - moving children to the centre of the international agenda.

The former South African president and his wife, Graca Machel, want world leaders to take action to improve the lives of children.

Mr Mandela and Ms Machel are hoping these leaders will make specific commitments to shield children from war, disease and poverty when they meet for a special summit in September, sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).

The 83-year-old Mr Mandela has inspired the world with his struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.

After more than 26 years in prison, he emerged in 1990 to become South Africa's first black president, replacing the apartheid regime with a multi-racial democracy. Three years later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Having stepped down from the presidency in 1999, Mr Mandela has been a key player in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other African countries.

Graca Machel was part of the liberation movement in Mozambique and is perhaps best known today for her study of the impact of war on children.

Nelson Mandela, one of the world's most respected and admired statesmen, and his wife Graca Machel answered your questions in a special edition of our phone-in programme Talking Point, on Wednesday 29 August.


Transcript


Robin Lustig:

Welcome to Talking Point. I am Robin Lustig in Johannesburg with a special edition of the programme and two very special guests.

Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, have joined us to talk about their work to make the world a better place for children.

Next month in New York there will be a special session of the United Nations General Assembly devoted only to discussion about children. It will be a rare opportunity for world leaders to pledge their commitment to do more to protect children from war, disease and poverty.

Nelson Mandela is probably the world's most respected elder statesman. His fight for democracy here in South Africa won him millions of admirers and after spending more than 26 years in prison he emerged to become the country's first black president.

Since leaving power two years ago he campaigned forcefully on behalf of children, as has Graca Machel, who has been a highly effective children's champion for many years and who wrote a highly influential report for the United Nations on the impacts of conflict upon children's lives.

We have had a huge number of e-mails from listeners to the BBC World Service and readers of BBC News Online, all of whom wanted an opportunity to take part in today's programme. At least some of them are going to get a chance now to ask their questions directly to our guests.

Welcome to Talking Point Mr Mandela; welcome Ms Machel. Let's go straight to our first question. It comes in fact from England. Tom Burke is in Plymouth. Hello Tom.

Tom Burke, Plymouth, UK:
Hello. I would just like to say that are we going to the special session in September and I want to know how your guests think that we can turn what the governments say at the special session into action? Because far too often, I think, governments say things but don't turn it into action.


Robin Lustig:

Thank you for that Tom. So Mr Mandela, talk is all very well - what about action?


Nelson Mandela:

We... heads of state from various parts of the world will assemble in New York on this occasion offering a unique opportunity to all those who have the commitment about the welfare and the future of our children... Whilst this meeting we welcome and we believe that a great deal of improvement will occur as far as the welfare of the children are concerned. But hard work is going to be required because in many of the countries where children face a lot of problems the limitation is that there is no opportunities - even for the leaders in those countries - to fight these challenges that are facing children. And with no resources and without resources - without a high level of education, without commitment, it is going to be very difficult for many people to do anything.


Robin Lustig:

Mrs Machel, what reasons do you have to believe that the degree of political commitment to improving children's lives is greater now than it has been in the past?


Graca Machel

After the first children's summit of 1990 I believe that child rights have been quite high on the international agenda. There is much more awareness today than there has been in the past. But more importantly, there is some progress which can be measured since 1990. It is limited, but there is progress. We can see what has been happening in education, in malnutitrion. In some countries it has improved tremendously. So I feel the momentum is there. What I believe is extremely important is to strengthen the political will - that people have to mean what they say. They have to allocate human resources to make things happen, but they also need to allocate financial and material resources.


Robin Lustig:

Let's take another call from Egypt this time, Talha Asmal. Hello Talha.

Hello, Mdeba and Graca. I am a South African. I am in Egypt because my father is a political counsellor in the South African Embassy. My question to you is: What should the world leaders do about the thousands of Aids orphans in Africa and around the world?


Robin Lustig:

Mr Mandela it is a huge problem of course here in South Africa - more people living with HIV and Aids in this country than in any other country in the world. What are your feelings about what can and should be done?


Nelson Mandela:

There are many organisations in this country which are concerned and which have formulated plans in order to deal with Aids. But we are facing tremendous problems - firstly from the point of view of preventive action. A great deal of propaganda has to be undertaken because the customs and culture in certain communities amongst us prohibits us from talking about sex whatever you are going to say.

So we have to go and break through that barrier. And then secondly from the point of view of preventive action, many people are shy to declare that they suffer from Aids. In other words, they are signing their own death warrant because if a person hides the fact that he's ill, there is no way in which he can be cured.

But one of the most important things on which some of us are working on is to ensure that the big companies do not just concentrate on the urban areas - they go out to the rural areas because there the pandemic is creating a great deal of havoc.

Recently we saw some of the big companies say we want them to make available their resources - their expertise - so that we can turn the whole question around, emphasising that it is in countries where the leaders are in the forefront - like Uganda, like Senegal - where leaders are seen fondling children with Aids and putting them on their laps and so on.

We have to develop that approach and I think that we are on the way of doing so. But still the challenge is very big.


Robin Lustig:

We have had a couple of e-mail questions about the role of the big international financial institutions in helping the work for children. Sandy James in London asked: Do you really think that the likes of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank make a difference in the lives of poor children around the world? I believe doing more locally, getting the people themselves involved, getting them educated is a far more effective way than sending money via corrupt governments and organisations.

Dick Carpenter, Spokane, USA asks: It seems to me that world organizations have no ability to deal with the collective plight of the world's children in a similar way that they can't deal with dictators who devastate their own people. Meanwhile individual governments don't seem to have the will to help their own children. Do you agree?


Graca Machel

Well I think we need both. We need the global institutions really to release the capacity and the resources they have and to make them available to national institutions to operate.

We can't say that only national organisations can make a difference. Global institutions like the IMF, World Bank and others - yes they have more and more to respond to the challenge of being not only heard but seen to be releasing resources to make programmes at national level work.

Secondly, I agree that children are not in abstract - they are in a country, they are in a province, they are in a district. So it is important that national governments, religious groups, civil society organisations, unions - whoever - everybody has to concentrate in making the lives of children better. Because at the end the whole of society is going not only to benefit, but actually it is going to change if we concentrate on children.


Robin Lustig:

Where do you focus most of your energy? Do you focus it on those institutions - on the IMF and the World Bank - or do you focus it on individual national governments?


Graca Machel

No, more in national governments actually I have to so. Now and again, yes, we have been interacting with the global institutions. But again we believe that at the national level there is still a lot of developing this political will we are talking about so that is where we concentrate more.


Robin Lustig:

Let's take another call. This one comes from Mateus Webba da Silva who is in New York but who is Angolan originally. Mateau hello... Well. I don't think we can hear him but I can tell you approximately what he wanted to say which was about children as soldiers. What do you say to the argument that sometimes children have to take up arms because otherwise their survival would be at stake?


Graca Machel

It is unfortunate that adults, on many occasions, put children in situations where they have no option for survival other than to pick up arms. I have to stress here that the responsibility of that is of adults - it is not of children. But yes of course it is true that sometimes they have to try to do something if they have to survive and then the only chance they have is to pick up arms. That is why again I call for the responsibility of adults for never taking a child to be in that situation. It is our responsibility not theirs.

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24 Jul 01 | Africa
26 Feb 01 | Africa
06 May 00 | In Depth
16 Jun 99 | Africa
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