Address by Nelson Mandela on receiving the Order of the Lion of Malawi

22 May 2002

Your Excellency President Muluzi
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is always a special privilege to visit your beautiful country and to be received with such warmth and hospitality. Every time we come here and experience this abundance of friendship, we know it to be true that Malawi stands at the centre of African warmth.

Tonight has been no exception. We are, as always, made to feel that we are at our home away from home.

Mister President, we are humbled by the honour you so generously saw fit to bestow upon us tonight. That the government and people of Malawi thought it proper to honour us in this manner although we are retired and no longer in any office speaks volumes about your generosity of spirit.

We gratefully accept the honour, Mister President; it is for us a further token of the strong ties of friendship that exist between our two countries and peoples, and of our personal bonds with Malawi, its people and its leadership.

Mister President, I need not even speak about the special esteem in which I hold you as a brother and a leader, as my respect and admiration for you are well known.

You have led your country with wisdom and compassion. You have played your role as a leader in the affairs of Southern Africa with great statesmanship. I have always admired the independence of thought that you brought to the deliberations of SADC. And you are respected as a leader of integrity on our continent.

To be in such company, and to be honoured by such a person, is indeed an exceptional recognition.

We face crucial challenges and are at a decisive point in the development of our region and continent. If ever leadership of integrity was required it is now. The fate of our continent, our region and our individual countries are in our hands. The decisions we take and the manner in which we lead will affect and determine the quality of life of the millions of our people.

There is still too much suffering on our continent that could have been prevented by leadership which put the interests of the people supreme. The conflict, war and instability in many parts of our continent must in great measure be blamed on an absence of leaders who are capable or willing to subject personal and sectional considerations to the well being and common good of the people.

It is the quality of leadership that you, Mister President, and others like you, demonstrate that will serve as a model and a moral force.

We have ourselves experienced how, in the case of Burundi, the collective leadership of a region, and the quality of that leadership, can affect developments in situations of conflict. It was principally the sustained moral force of the combined Great Lakes leadership that ultimately brought sanity to prevail amongst the leaders of the political parties in Burundi.

We trust that similar collective leadership and wisdom can be brought to bear on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to assist the very able efforts of former President Masere as facilitator. If peace can return to the DRC and the rebel forces in Burundi come to a cease-fire agreement with the transitional government, a large part of our continent would have attained the conditions for stability and development.

Mister President, of course few other things challenge our leadership as urgently and severely as the threat of HIV/AIDS.

Allow me to repeat what has so often been said; but it is so true and so serious that it deserves constant repetition.

The AIDS pandemic represents a tragedy of unprecedented proportions unfolding in Africa. AIDS today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sumtotal of all wars, famines and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers.

Business has suffered losses of personnel, productivity and profits; economic growth is being undermined and scarce development resources have to be diverted to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on families, communities, societies and economies. Decades have been chopped from life expectancy and young child mortality is expected to more than double in the most severely affected countries of Africa. AIDS is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future.

Once more, leadership of quality and resolve is required to mobilise all the forces and partnerships available in the war against this life threatening scourge.

Mister President, we know that we can overcome if we dedicate and commit ourselves to the common good and the interests of the people, especially the poor and the marginalised.

You have been a sterling example of such leadership and I congratulate you and the people of Malawi.

And I thank you once more for the great honour you have done me.

Source: South African Government Information Website