Address by Nelson Mandela at Annual Children’s Celebrations, Bloemfontein

27 September 2003

Members of the Executive Council
Executive Mayors
District Mayors
Representatives of the House of Traditional Leaders
All the children present
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

Madam Premier of the Free State, Winkie Direko; His Worship Executive Mayor of Mangaung, Itumeleng Mokoena; MEC Marshoff; District Mayors of Motheo, Thaba Mofutsana, Lejwe Leputswa, Northern Free State and Xhariep; and all the people who participated in making the event a resounding success - I extend my deepest thanks to you all.

I am informed that when a request was made to the Province to host this year’s Annual Children’s Celebrations, the co-hosts and partners, the Office of the Premier, led by the Department of Social Development, and the Mangaung Office of the Mayor, took the challenge head-on and were committed from day one to make this a memorable occasion.

I know this is going to be a day cherished by all the children gathered here, as well as by old pensioners like myself.

We wish our children to enjoy and live themselves out fully. We in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund firmly believe in letting children be themselves as fully and creatively as possible. We believe in working with children and not just for children.

We understand and promote the notion that while children need to be guided they also have an entrenched right to be whatever they want to be and that they can achieve this only if they are given the space to dream and live out their dreams.

The children’s drawings we have seen and the messages we have read and interpreted here today tell a meaningful story by capturing the way our children feel. This year’s theme "Free to Be Me" touches on what children really want to be in an environment that is free from fear.

Children require to live in a safe and conducive environment that allows them to dream and envision a meaningful future for themselves, their community and society.

Next year we shall be celebrating ten years of democracy and freedom in our land. In celebrating that, let us particularly remember that we fought for the freedom of our children and for a better future for them.

Let us take our children with us into this freedom and let us not stifle their freedom to grow and even be different from us. We need to guide them to live to their full potential in freedom and responsibility. Freedom needs to be celebrated in this affirming manner.

My vision and dream, which I am sure is shared by all of you gathered here today, is for all the children of the world to be free from want, hunger, disease, ignorance, and the suffering of war and violence.

You, our children, should be free to dream and free to be you. Remember, however, that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility, self-respect and respect for others. Do not go out there to self-destruct, but prepare to be conscientious leaders of tomorrow. Good wise leaders respect the law and basic values of their society. Go out there and contribute to the well-being of your homes, your communities, schools, churches, and sports and cultural clubs.

Madam Premier, may I remind all present here that the business of the Children’s Fund is to influence attitudes and work towards a child-centred society. Our vision is to positively change the way society treats its children.

All previous annual children’s celebrations except for this year were around the time of my birthday. Those parties were held to celebrate all our children; to demonstrate our appreciation of the efforts of our children and their supporters; and to sensitise SA and the world about children, their needs, and their aspirations.

This year we celebrate and remind ourselves of two key articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which South Africa signed in 1995. These are articles (9) and (12), referring to the right to be part of a family and the right to speak and be heard.

In the next year the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund will dedicate significant human and financial resources in support of youth and child led projects, giving children the opportunity to be participants in the reconstruction and development of our societies.

This exercise is supported by a group of dedicated youth leaders from various backgrounds who enthusiastically serve as advisors and champions of our joint cause.

In support of the right to be part of a family, the Children’s Fund in partnership with Kellogg Foundation, the Human Sciences Research Council and other Southern African partners, is committing R1.5million in this year to the hosting province for the support of children and families affected by HIV-AIDS.

This support will focus on the strengthening of the family; the mobilisation of community structures for the promotion and protection of the interests of children; and Behaviour Change Education. This is an extension of one of the Fund’s pilot programmes, Goelama, which is operational in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo where it is making a significant and positive contribution to the lives of children affected by HIV-AIDS.

We appreciate the warm reception from government and the constructive partnership we have with them. We invite business, religious bodies and communities to come on board as we rebuild our families and secure the interests of our children and society.

We have in our lives fought and won many good battles. Today we are called upon once more to do battle and win the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as that against the inhumane treatment of children. We dare not give up or succumb.

I thank you

Source: South African Government Information Website