Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Pretoria

8 May 1995

Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.

We come from a past in which the lives of our children were assaulted and devastated in countless ways. It would be no exaggeration to speak of a national abuse of a generation by a society which it should have been able to trust.

As we set about building a new South Africa, one of our highest priorities must therefore be our children. The vision of a new society that guides us should already be manifest in the steps we take to address the wrong done to our youth and to prepare for their future. Our actions and policies, and the institutions we create, should be eloquent with care, respect and love.

This is essentially a national task. The primary responsibility is that of government, institutions and organised sectors of civil society. But at the same time we are all of us, as individuals, called upon to give direction and impetus to the changes that must come. Our actions should declare, in a practical and exemplary way, the importance and the urgency of the matter.

This was the thought to which I wished to give effect by initiating the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

The Fund provides a way in which people, including myself, could make their own direct contribution to alleviating the plight of young people in need.

The first celebration in a democratic South Africa of the anniversary of 16 June 1976, was an appropriate date for the announcement of the Fund. It evoked the suffering of children in the past and the legacy of deprivation to be addressed. Equally, it served to imprint upon the character of the Fund a recognition of the potential embodied in the youth of our country. They rose to the challenge of history by assuming a responsibility for their own future and for that of their country, beyond their years.

The Children's Fund therefore has a special importance. It includes, but goes far beyond, the immediate relief it will give to young people deprived of what should be their right: amongst other things, a home, formal education, freedom from detention.

It is concerned, too, with helping open opportunities that have been denied, as well as developing the potential in our young people to play a major role in the reconstruction and development of our country.

More than this, it has the potential to make a seminal contribution to the efforts of institutions concerned with children, the private sector and government.

From this follow certain requirements concerning the nature of the Fund and its activities.

It means that it should be an example to all our institutions and organisations in how it conducts its affairs, in its integrity, its probity and openness. The distinguished character of its Trustees and Management leaves no room for doubt that this will be so.

It means that the Fund should work together with other institutions dedicated to relieving the plight of disadvantage children. It will join in the partnership that cuts across all social sectors, which is carrying us forward in the grand enterprise of transforming our society.

It means that the projects and institutions that the Fund assists should exemplify the characteristics needed for the reconstruction and development of our country.

The Fund will deploy its resources to facilitate initiatives by young people or communities that are ready to shoulder responsibility for their own improvement and upliftment. Lasting improvement, and not only immediate relief, will be a guiding objective. The work supported by the Fund should foster the spirit of co-operation, mutual respect and consultation as well as openness and prudent use of resources.

The needs which have to be addressed are great. The number of young people who live under seriously deprived socio-economic circumstances in our country is shockingly high. Youth unemployment, homelessness, lack of formal education these are all measured in millions.

All this means that if the Children's Fund is to make a significant contribution to addressing these needs, it must be as well-endowed as possible, both financially and in terms of the support it enjoys.

A firm foundation has already been laid, and I would like to use this opportunity to thank all those who brought us to this point.

The initial donors gave substance to the idea. The Management Trustees have given of their time and experience to endow the Fund with the legal form and the administrative capacity to set it on course. Many people have worked hard and with imagination to prepare this splendid occasion.

To all of you, to everyone who has taken the trouble to be with us tonight, and to the young people of South Africa, whose need and whose promise is our driving force, may I express my sincere and heartfelt thanks.

On all of you who are here, there rests a double challenge.

As distinguished individuals and representatives of corporate bodies, you have the capacity to build the financial resources of the fund. Your standing in society gives you considerable influence that you can lend to this enterprise.

I would urge you, most sincerely and passionately, to be unstinting in your assistance in both regards.

You will be setting in motion a process that draws in many more individuals, corporations and aid agencies, both South African and international.

You will be sending a powerful message to government, the private sector and institutions, that the plight of our young people and their future should receive the nation's urgent attention.

You will be setting a compelling example which in the end will help to ensure the happiness and welfare of all our children.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation