Address by Nelson Mandela at ceremony celebrating partnership between Nelson Mandela Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation in support of the loveLife initiative, Johannesburg

28 September 2002

I want to thank President Clinton for his gracious remarks and particularly for including Orange Farm on his current tour through Africa.

President Clinton is one of the greatest advocates Africa has ever had in the United States and now he is devoting his considerable energy, intellect and influence to the global struggle against HIV/AIDS.

I shall always remember and frequently quote the words you spoke on your first tour of Africa as President of the United States when you said the question is not what can be done for Africa, but rather what can be done with Africa.

I want to start my remarks by assuring you Mr President, we appreciate your efforts and we are with you all the way.

I also want to thank our friends in the Kaiser Family Foundation for making this event possible.

This place where we are today, Orange Farm, is the product of decades of struggle against efforts of the apartheid regime to force black people to live in homelands far away from the centres of employment and economic activity. Orange Farm is in many respects testimony to our people's resilience and fighting spirit.

Our nation is now confronting an even heavier challenge and greater fight. HIV/AIDS threatens to decimate our country. Already more than 5 million South Africans are HIV positive and without dramatic intervention this number is projected to at least double in the next eight to ten years.

Clearly, the only way to reduce the overall prevalence of HIV/AIDS is to prevent people getting infected in the first place. This is not easy, because of the fact that HIV/AIDS is so inextricably linked to sexual behaviour.

Yet in South Africa, and many of the worst affected nations, there is a window of opportunity. More than 40% of our population is today under 15 years of age and mostly still not sexually active. If we can dramatically reduce the rate of HIV infection among this population we will have a real prospect of substantially curtailing the projected scale of the epidemic.

Failure on the other hand will lead to a massive ballooning of the epidemic, as these young people become sexually active.

loveLife is founded principally on this prospect. Its programmes target 12 to 17 year olds and it promotes a holistic healthy lifestyle approach to responsible sexuality. The loveLife ethos put simply is that a young person who is motivated, self-confident and who has high personal esteem is much more likely to practice safe sex.

loveLife is still young, but the early evidence is that young people are responding very positively to this approach.

We are here today to celebrate a new partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and loveLife. This event demonstrates that our support for loveLife is not just about handing over a cheque, but to show the world we are rolling up our sleeves to join you in the trenches as fully active partners in your effort to reduce HIV infection among our young people.

Our support will be matched by additional funding from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the South African Government through the Department of Social Development to establish a national youth service corps of 18 to 25 year olds to be known as loveLife groundBreakers.

An initial cohort of 600 groundBreakers will volunteer for a year to work with loveLife and the Department of Social Development in providing outreach and support programs in communities worst affected by HIV/AIDS. We heartily applaud this effort and look forward to a long association with it.

Over the past three years loveLife has become a dominant feature in South Africa and because it is so visible many people confuse loveLife with South Africa’s total response to the HIV epidemic. We need to be clear that as fundamentally crucial as loveLife is to saving our young people, it is only a small piece of the comprehensive national response required. Prevention, care and treatment are part of an inseparable continuum and each should be driven with the same intensity, vigour and commitment.

I applaud the government for its support of loveLife, not only ensuring government funding for loveLife programmes but also for government’s farsightedness in recognising that a different approach to HIV education was needed if we wanted to get the attention of young people.

A soon to be released survey of HIV-affected households by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that fewer than 16% of these households are succeeding in accessing available government grants, and only about 20% were getting any kind of assistance in providing home-based care for AIDS-sick people. Needless to say most had no prospect of accessing anti-retroviral treatment and will inevitably die.

This situation will not be allowed to stand. I am happy to report that already through the massive initiative of leading private corporations like Anglo American, de Beers, Daimler Benz and Transnet there will be a huge infusion of anti-retroviral drugs into the national health system. I believe confidently that this is the so-called “thin end of the wedge” and that it is literally only a matter of time before anti-retrovirals are also available throughout the public health system. That has to be our goal.

But to get back to our reason for being here today, I want to emphasise that anti-retroviral drugs are not a cure for AIDS. There is no simple cure. You young people and every single one of us have a personal responsibility to protect ourselves and those we love from HIV. HIV doesn’t just happen like getting a cold; it is a consequence of unsafe sex. We all have to take responsibility for our behaviour. And I want specifically to say to parents: talk openly and often to your children about HIV, sex and relationships. Parents are the frontline fighters in this effort and it can’t be done without your help.

Finally I want to recognise the corporate representatives gathered here today and to applaud you for your support of loveLife.

I want to echo Dr. Altman by saying this is no short-term endeavour, and we invite you to stay the course with us. I also want to speak to those corporate leaders not here. There can be no excuse for South African corporations not to be at the forefront of the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Let us all join hands in this war against HIV/AIDS.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation