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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Mandela's Aids speech: Excerpts
Excerpts from the closing speech by former South African President Nelson Mandela to the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban.
To have been asked to deliver the closing address at this conference, which in a very literal sense concerns itself with matters of life and death, weighs heavily upon me, for the gravity of the responsibility placed on one.
This is the one event where every word uttered, every gesture made, had to be measured against the effect it can and will have on the lives of millions.
This is , as I understand it, a gathering of human beings concerned about turning around one of the greatest threats humankind has faced.
So much unnecessary attention around this conference has been directed towards a dispute that is unintentionally distracting from the real life and death issues we are confronted with, as a country.
In all disputes, a point is arrived at where no party, no matter how right or wrong it might have been at the start of that dispute, will any longer be totally in the right or totally in the wrong. Such a point I believe, has been reached in this debate.
The president of this country is a man of great intellect, who takes scientific thinking very seriously, and he leads a government that I know to be committed to those principles of science and reason.
The scientific community of this country, I also know, holds dearly to the principle of freedom of scientific inquiry, unencumbered by undue political interference in, and direction of, science.
Now, however, the ordinary people of the continent and the world, and particularly the poor, who on our continent will again carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge, would, if anybody cared to ask their opinion, wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the back burner, and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying, and this can only be done in partnership.
Unity of purpose
In the face of the great threat posed by HIV-Aids, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now, and right now. Let us not equivocate.
A tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. Aids, today in Africa, is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria.
HIV-Aids is having a devastating impact on families, communities, society and economies.
Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades, and sabotaging the future.
Earlier this week we were shocked to learn that, within South Africa, one in two - that is half - of our young people will die of Aids.
Something must be done, as a matter of the greatest urgency, and with nearly two decades of dealing with the epidemic, we now do have some experience of what works.
HIV infection can be prevented through investing in information and life-skills development for young people. Promoting abstinence, safe sex, and the use of condoms, and ensuring the early treatment of sexually transmitted diseases are some of the steps needed, and about which there can be no dispute.
It is not, I must add, as if the South African Government has not moved significantly on many of these areas.
It was the first deputy president (Thabo Mbeki) in my government that oversaw and drove the initiatives in this regard, and as president, continues to place this issue on top of the national and continental agenda.
He will, with me, be the first to concede that much more remains to be done. I do not doubt for one moment that he will proceed to tackle this task with the resolve and dedication he is known for.
The challenge is to move from rhetoric to action and act at an unprecedented intensity and scale. There is a need for us to focus on what we know works.
We need to break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against Aids. Those who are infected with this terrible disease do not want stigma, they want love.
We need bold initiatives to prevent a new infection among young people, and large-scale action to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and at the same time, we need to continue the international effort of searching for appropriate vaccines.
We need to work with families and communities, to care for children and young people, to protect them from violence and abuse.
We need... African resolve to fight this war. Others will not save us if we do not primarily commit ourselves. Let us, however, not underestimate the resources required to conduct this battle. Partnership with the international community is vital.
No government anywhere in the world has sufficient resources on its own to be able to fight and win this battle. Therefore there must be a partnership between business and the communities.
Let us combine our efforts to ensure a future for our children. The challenge is no less.
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
14 Jul 00 | Health
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