Address by Nelson Mandela at the opening of the Zola Clinic, Soweto

7 March 2002

(Being) friends of Bill Gates is very intimidating, but I hope that my height is not so intimidating for President Carter. If there is anything that I can boast about is that I am taller than the President of the United States of America.

Now, the question of stigma against people suffering from HIV is a very serious one, which is a matter of concern to all of us. I was in jail when I read of a case somewhere in the middle of Europe where the accused, in the course of the case, announced that he was HIV-positive. Everybody in court ran out including the judge and the prosecutor because of this stigma around everybody who is HIV-positive. It took a British princess, Princess Diana who decided to do something in order to change this perception. She went to hospital in London with HIV-positive people, entered their ward, shook hands with them, sat on their beds and started conversing with them and later came out. And people then said ‘if a British princess can actually go and shake hands with people who are HIV-positive why should I be afraid of doing the same thing?’ So she made a very good contribution towards destroying this stigma which surrounds everybody with HIV/AIDS.

Now, I have suffered from illnesses which have a stigma. When I was in prison I contracted TB and there are many people who do not want to have anything to do with somebody who has tuberculosis. And as you know now, last year, I was found to be a cancer patient. Now, I didn’t hide this, I immediately called the press and I told them that I have this illness. And I said: ‘well, my doctors say I that might recover but I know that sometimes doctors tell patients something to encourage them’ and I say: ‘Look, if cancer has an upper hand and I leave this world, when I reach the next world the first thing I will do is to look for the nearest branch of the African National Congress and renew my membership’. I said the second thing I will do is to look for billionaires like Bill Gates in that world and say to them: ‘Billionaires on earth now are going out to build to build schools, clinics, community halls, for the poorest of the poor, to give them scholarships. This very morning we were busy asking various companies to take students who cannot, whose parents cannot afford to send them to university. I spoke to Anglo American – they took five, I spoke to Standard Bank –they took five, I spoke to Nedcor – they took five. How many are you prepared to take, here? I’m sure you can take ten – each. Now, but that is very important, never to lose confidence if you are ill. I have told many of those who have listened to me about two cases, all of whom taking place in New York. One, a young man who had cancer and the leg had to be amputated. That young man decided to be a role model and he walked from New York, on the Atlantic, right up to the Pacific, with one leg. It took two years but he was able to complete that journey. And once he did that many people who were depressed because they had this terminal disease said: ‘Well, I’m going to fight back and live and follow the example of that young man.’ Then there was another case again on the Atlantic of a young lady who had cancer of the womb. And a top gynaecologist said to her: ‘Never ever have children, because if you do, you’ll die.’ She was determined to have children. By the time I read the story she had two children and she was still going strong. Now, it is important to follow the prescriptions of the doctor, but it is equally important to be determined to live and not to give in and to do things which will then arouse the spirit of those who are suffering from that illness.

Now, I have said, and I would like to repeat it here, that one of the striking features in the world is the emergence of men and women in every continent who have decided to take up socio-economic issues in every part of the world, no matter what the ethnic group of the person suffering is. And Bill Gates here and Jimmy Carter are part of that generation of, not worrying only about the people in their respective countries, but of wanting to share their resources with people who are suffering all over the world. That is one of the things which is going to leave many people, who haven’t got the means, full of hope and determined to fight, in order to overcome whatever terminal diseases that they have. This is what you are achieving Bill, this is what you are also achieving Jimmy. And you are setting an example to people who have the means, of what they should do in order to leave human beings happy and full of hope. And I must thank both of you for coming all the way in order to help here. And by your reaction, you will bring about happiness on people who otherwise would spend the rest of their days miserable.

I heard the other day, somebody who came to my office and he said: ’Look, I am HIV-positive. I have given up hope, but as a result of people who are courageous, and he mentioned them, and who have not hidden that they have got terminal diseases, which normally ought to give rise to stigma, they, themselves have taken the initiative to ensure that they give an example that that stigma does not affect them. That stigma, sometimes is more dangerous than the terminal disease itself. Because you can cure, you can fight and live as long as possible with the assistance of drugs, but a stigma, it destroys your self-confidence. I was told of a case by Minister Skweyiya of Social Welfare. He took a trip around the country and went to Limpopo, the northern province, and he found that there was a family there, where the both parents died, leaving three children, the eldest eight, the second four, and the last, two years. And the families around were sympathetic, they wanted to help these children. They would put food in a plastic, go to the hut, make sure that they are a distance away from the door and say: ‘Are you there?’ And the child appeared and he says: ‘No, just go back’ and they would throw the plastic into the hut. Now that is very damaging because you destroy the confidence of the children. Take it upon yourself where you live to make people around you joyful and full of hope. Don’t leave it to the government, don’t leave it to the Premier here and the MEC, you, yourself must take the initiative where you are, to ensure that your neighbours, whatever terminal diseases they are suffering from are given love, support and whatever means you have in order to make them to forget about their illness and to feel that they are human beings, they are loved by those around them. And I am very happy the premier has taken a wonderful initiative – whatever the problems are, but he has taken a courageous lead in what he has been doing. And we are discussing these problems, and I hope, sincerely hope that all obstacles that have been placed, will be moved, will be solved. The government is doing very well in conducting these scientific tests because even if they have been conducted in the United States of America, Britain [change of tape some words are lost] … rise out of poverty and it is therefore proper for the government to make sure that they conduct their own researches. Even though they have been conducted elsewhere, we must fully support the government.

Where we have reservations is the fact that well-off people can go to clinics, private clinics, private doctors and pay and get attended to. But the poorest of the poor cannot do that, the only place where they can be treated is in public hospitals. But if the government says you don’t take any move even in regard to pub hospitals until we have completed our researches, babies, young people, are going to die in scores every day. It is that that has given this wrong perception that we don’t care for the lives of the young people who are dying. We must remove that and the government must allow people, whilst the government is conducting these researches, to go anywhere they want but to say if: ‘If you go to public hospitals or to private doctors in order to get cured, that’s your responsibility, Because some of these drugs are dangerous, they are toxic, that’s your responsibility but you must decide whether you want to approach our sources that can help you whilst we are conducting this research.

If we do that we will remove the perception that we don’t care for our people who are dying. And it is necessary here to be broad-minded, not to feel that your ego has been touched, if you listen to what the public is saying and that is why I complimentary the Premier here from the bottom of my heart and I’m prepared to defend him anywhere. He has got the vision which we need in people in leadership.

But, as an old man, you know, I’m entitled to speak for hours, and but I think that I must be careful because I want Bill Gates not to feel that ‘no that old man is very cheeky, I don’t want to have anything to do with him’, and of course the president here, I want to be on good terms with them. So I must say thank you very much.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation