Address by President Nelson Mandela welcoming the "On the right track" train, Cape Town

8 March 1999

Premier of the Western Cape Province;
Cabinet Ministers;
Ladies and Gentleman

It is right that we should mark International Women's Day with the launch of this Women's Partnership Against AIDS.

We are joining hands, as women and men, against a silent killer that threatens our democracy.

HIV/AIDS is one of those critical issues which demand visible leadership and urgent

It is eroding the fabric of our society, and jeopardising the reconstruction and development of our country.

It is because this disease has the potential to undermine the progress our country has made, that government is taking the lead in the Partnership Against AIDS.

We must break the silence around this disease.

Why understand why there is this silence.

It is because transmission occurs primarily through sex, which is not openly discussed. It is because it is a disease for which there is at present no cure. It is because those who are known to have AIDS face a host of potential discriminations - at work, in access to housing, insurance, and health care; and within their communities and neighbourhoods. For all these reasons, many people who know they are infected choose to remain silent.

We cannot afford to be complacent.

At present 1 500 new infections occur every day in South Africa. There are now about 3.6 million South Africans infected with HIV/AIDS. Figures recently released by the Minister of Health have shown that growing numbers of young people are being infected.

This must be a wake-up call to our whole nation to take responsibility for turning the tide of this decease.

None of us can stand aside because we are all affected.

Soon the impact of the impact will be felt across our society:

* Already the need for health care has increased dramatically;

* Welfare demands will grow as more people are disabled and children are orphaned;

* Increasingly older persons are having to take care of families;

* Employers will face higher costs through absenteeism, lower productivity, and more costly benefits.

We cannot afford to wait for the full force of the epidemic to strike. We must act now.

Initiatives such as this On the Right Track project will help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and encourage communities to deal with the issues at a grassroots level.

It is therefore a pleasure to join you all in welcoming the AIDS Train to Cape Town. Your long journey across South Africa is a bold contribution to the efforts of the National Partnership Against AIDS to capture South Africa's imagination.

We need such initiatives if we are convince our youth how serious this disease is.

I am told that the journey has been a tremendous success, and that at each station. There were between one thousand and five thousand people to engage with you.

I would like to commend the organisers - the Ministers, SPOORNET, and all who worked hard to ensure success. You have set the nation a shining example of partnership.

The challenge of AIDS can be overcome if we work together to combat it.

Together let us strengthen the Partnership Against AIDS.

Issued by the Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website