Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the Canadian Friends of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund

25 September 1998

Children of Canada
Canadian Friends of our Children's Fund
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be with you today and to see all your young faces.

You will know that I come from a country where most of us were denied freedom for many years. Some of us were put in jail because we fought against the unjust system of apartheid. During the years in prison, we were separated from our own children and the children of our country. We yearned to see children laughing, playing and doing all the things that children do.

When we came out of prison, we found that in South Africa there were no longer many children who could laugh and play innocently. Apartheid had left millions without schooling; decent housing; or proper health-care. Too many did not have enough to eat.

The children of South Africa were forced to grow up very quickly and take the responsibilities of adults, and many of them were jailed or even killed because they joined the struggle for freedom.

Young people who could have been developing their talents to the full and then making a valuable contribution to society, were living life on the margins.

Today, South Africans are taking the special needs of children very seriously. Men and women from every walk of life are working hand in hand to give our children the better life they deserve, especially those who are homeless, who have not had formal education or are in prison.

We started the Children's Fund to address some of the most urgent needs of our youth and to help prepare them for the future.

It has grown from strength to strength. We even now have Friends of the Children's Fund in Britain and in the United States of America.

I am truly grateful that you have come to help us launch the Fund here in Canada.

Two young people have come with us from South Africa especially to talk to you about our country and its children. In turn they will tell children in South Africa about the children of Canada. Building links between the children of different countries can only strengthen the chances for a better world in the future.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those who have worked to get the Friends started and everyone whose support made today possible.

Canada has played a very positive role in the world, through its own efforts to promote racial harmony and in its peacemaking efforts elsewhere. In the fight against apartheid the people of Canada were a loyal friend and ally of the South African people. For that we thank you and salute you!

Apartheid fell because people around the world stood up and opposed it together. As future leaders who will take over from the older generation to which I belong, you face even greater challenges. Though the world has made much progress in the twentieth century, the lives of much of humanity is still blighted by poverty, violence, hunger, disease and environmental damage.

Why is it that over 200 million children under the age of five are malnourished in this day and age! Why do millions of people still not have electricity and clean water when the nations of the world can produce so much wealth! Why are people still dying from diseases that modern science can cure!

All this can be changed if ordinary people like you and me act together, just as we ended apartheid and just as slavery was abolished 160 years ago.

This visit to North America has been exciting and inspiring. But the greatest joy has been to discover that there are so many children in this country who care about other children in the world, children far away from them whom they have never seen. You have made me feel like a young man again, with my batteries recharged.

When I go back to my country I will be able to tell the children of South Africa that in Canada they have friends indeed, who are ready to work with us for a better life for all children!

And I would like you to tell the Canadian children who are not here today with us, that we love them all!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation