Address by Nelson Mandela at opening of Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre for Africa, Johannesburg

7 November 2003

It is a great honour and a source of pride to be a witness at this occasion where one of the greatest leaders our country has ever produced is being honoured.

I have said it so often but it can stand repeating over and over: while many of us had been hailed, honoured, decorated and showered with awards and prominent positions, the man that has stood head and shoulders above all of us, preferred to remain in the background and to go unsung in public awards and recognitions. And it was exactly that simplicity and humility that made him so much greater in leadership stature and quality than all of us.

I am of course speaking of the late Walter Sisulu whom we remember today with the opening of this Paediatric Cardiac Centre named after him.

That it is a Centre dedicated to children that will carry the name of Walter Sisulu is fitting and in keeping with the quality of the life Walter led. He was a leader of all people, no matter what their backgrounds or persuasions were. But his concern was in a very profound way for the weak, the marginalized and the vulnerable sectors of society. Children are amongst the most vulnerable sectors of society and Walter’s heart would have gone out to the suffering of the children this Centre seeks to assist.

Our children are our future and one of our most basic responsibilities is to care for them in the best and most compassionate manner possible. The kind of society for which Walter struggled and gave his whole life to is one in which none of us will stand by and see the suffering of children without attempting to aid and assist them.

I was alarmed to learn from your documentation that fewer than 20% of children with heart conditions requiring cardiac surgery in South Africa in fact receive treatment. And that in other countries on the continent that figure is estimated to be as low as 1%. The tragic result is that most of these children die young.

Now that is certainly not a situation that we must allow to continue; not if we wish to call ourselves a caring or a decent society. I am also informed that 95% of heart defects in babies and young children can be treated and that after the necessary treatment they can go on and live completely normal lives.

There is enough suffering of children inflicted by the actions of adults, whether through wars and conflict, through neglect or through brutal abuse and violence upon them. Not to speak of the terrible manner in which they suffer as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Where we can do anything to alleviate, prevent or eradicate suffering on their part, we must hasten to do so.

This Walter Sisulu Paediatric Centre for Africa is one such initiative that deserves the support of all of us, private and corporate. It needs financial as well as moral support. I trust that the private sector shall respond as generously in support of this Centre as I have always found them to do when I called upon them for support of worthy causes.

The same goes for the various donor and aid agencies. Support for this Centre is one of the most precious investments in the future you can possibly make.

At the same time you shall be paying homage and respect to a greater leader than any you have ever supported.

I am so happy to see Mrs Albertina Sisulu and members of her family. She deserves so much credit for the quality of a life of service that Walter led. Her own sacrifice and service deserve as much of our respect and recognition. The naming of this Center after Walter is a tribute to her as well.

We must thank the initiators and supporters of this initiative. The lives of many a child will be saved and the quality of lives of many enhanced by the work of this Centre.

I thank you and wish you well

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation