Address by President Nelson Mandela at his 80th birthday party in the Kruger National Park

16 July 1998

Honourable Premiers and Ministers;
Sponsors and organizers;
Special guests and children,

Birthdays are a time to celebrate our lives and families and today I would like us to do just that. We should celebrate the strength and courage that helps us through unhappiness and pain. We should celebrate the continued support, compassion and care of our friends, families and communities.

Our communities and our families are still experiencing apartheid's destruction of our social fabric. There are between 50 and 80 thousand young people in one or other form of foster care in South Africa. In most cases these are informal foster care placements with a grandmother or other relative. Considering the scale of our needs in South Africa, we need many, many more foster homes.

Our country's first democratically elected government has put the interests of our children amongst its highest priorities.

On my 77th birthday, we launched the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Young People at Risk to transform the Child and Youth Care System. This transformation process is now well under way and includes many changes to the foster care service in South Africa. Pilot projects with Non-Governmental Organisations in the field on family preservation and new foster care approaches have proved to be extremely effective. They will be repeated in many of the provinces, starting from this year.

The communities, families, foster families and young people involved in these projects have shown courage, strength and great commitment in demonstrating that South African communities do understand the responsibility we all have for each other. Other initiatives such as the Children in Distress project in Pietermaritzburg and foster care projects run by Child and Welfare Societies are also proving to be extremely positive.

Minimum standards for foster care within the new framework and principles are to be developed within 1998 in a partnership between foster parents, foster children, the national department of welfare, NGOs and a foster care forum.

No single institution, including government, is capable of meeting the enormous needs of these children. Without adequate care, they will not fulfil their potential and their much needed contribution to social development in South Africa will be hampered. If we have any hope for their future, we all need to become involved in tackling the problem of children in need of a home and a family to love and care for them, now rather than later.

Together government, Non-Governmental Organisations, the Private Sector; communities and individuals must act together to boost Community-based forms of foster care which include an understanding of the child and his or her family.

As we celebrate the "family" today, we must all commit ourselves to ensuring that all our youngsters can experience a sense of family each day. Today is also about our efforts to keep our children within their families and within their communities, or re-integrating them within their families and communities as soon as we are able.

Our country's well-being depends on the well-being of our communities and of our children. We cannot build our country without building our communities and developing our children.

So today we are paying homage to all foster families who have demonstrated their courage and strength by opening their hearts and homes to share all that they have in fostering children who have no other place to go.

As today is my 80th birthday, I also want to pay a special tribute to the elderly, many of whom who are much older than me, who care for the young in South Africa. I know how much your wisdom and love is needed for nation-building and child development. I want to assure you that the Ministry of Welfare is exploring ways in which we can strengthen and support you.

To those who foster a child in South Africa, whether informally as a relative or through the Child and Youth Care System: I want you to know that you have made a big difference. This is truly a realisation of the spirit of Ubuntu - that profound African sense that each of us is human through the humanity of other human beings. As we face the struggle of HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses in SA, we will need many thousands more like you.

I wish to express a special thank you to all the participants -the foster families, the foster children, the sponsors and the organizers who have made today possible. You have made me proud to have met such giving people. You have given me a great gift. All of you here today are participants in this building process. These splendid celebrations are the product of the kind of partnership we need. It shows what can be achieved.

Let us together build communities and families in which our children and youth, especially those who are most troubled can belong. Let us build a country in which our children and youth can meet their need for mastering new skills, in which our children and youth can learn to care for and respect others - so that one day they too will build a family, a community and a country which is well and strong.

To all the children in South Africa who hurt inside, to those who care for them each day, and to their families and communities -we say that together we will continue to conquer the mountains in front of us, and we will triumph.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation