Address by Nelson Mandela at 46664 Press Conference, Robben Island

28 November 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen
Members of the media

Perhaps I should immediately hasten to add that this salutation, separately referring to ladies and gentlemen and then to members of the media, does not imply that members of the media are not themselves ladies and gentlemen!

On the contrary: in all my years in public life my favourite ladies and gentlemen were exactly members of the media. You were always the ones with the most courage to remind and reprimand me when I was acting less than a gentleman.

I have invited you here today, for once being able to show off in order to try and persuade you after all these years that I may in fact be a very special gentleman. I am surrounded here by such a collection of stars and celebrities that you certainly cannot doubt me any longer! I hope that from now on you will write and report about me only with praise and awe.

It is our great honour to introduce to you this morning a gathering of very special people; special because they are amongst the most talented artists and performers in the world, locally and internationally; but special also because their fame and fortune have not removed them from caring and compassion.

The men and women you see here this morning are ambassadors of the new hope of the twenty-first century. You have often heard me speak in strong terms these last few years about the direction the world sometimes appeared to be following – a route away from human solidarity and global responsibility for each other. Men and women like these remind us that people do care and that the divides of countries and nationalities do not stop us from being the proverbial keepers of our brothers and sisters around the globe.

These artists are here, as you very well know by now, to take part in the 46664 concert on Saturday night. They have so splendidly and generously given of their time, talent and energy to launch the 46664 campaign – a campaign to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and to raise funds for South Africa with the proceeds going to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for its promotion of work in this area.

South Africans fought a noble struggle against the evil of apartheid and triumphed in the end, creating a non-racial democracy in which all of our people can live in dignity.

Today as we reconstruct and develop our country we find ourselves faced by an even greater enemy and threat, this time in the form of HIV/AIDS. This pandemic threatens our future in ways and on a scale that we could not have imagined.

We are called to join the war against HIV/AIDS with the same, and even greater, resolve that we showed in the fight against apartheid. We have to mobilise all of our people, all sectors of society, all our resources and energies.

In the anti-apartheid struggle we referred to the four pillars of our struggle: mass mobilisation, the underground, armed struggle and international solidarity. We must find effective equivalents of each of these in the struggle against HIV/AIDS. The presence of so many international artists and celebrities here demonstrates that the international solidarity remains in our war against the pandemic. And the participation of so many local artists is testimony that there are role models out there prepared to help in the mass mobilisation against this new enemy.

We meet here this morning in a place that so typifies South Africa and the South African spirit. Robben Island was for long periods in our history of conflict and dispossession a place of incarceration, banishment and isolation. Today we visit it as a shrine to the indestructibility of the human spirit, and of the triumph of good over evil. The prison has become the most powerful symbol of freedom. The place of isolation now symbolises the power of human inclusiveness and solidarity.

We defeated apartheid because the people of our country decided to work together rather than destroy one another and in the process destroy our entire country.

AIDS can be defeated as well. Our government has in the last few weeks announced policy measures that will once more put us in the lead in the fight against the pandemic.

It is most fitting that this coming together of overseas and local artists and performers happens so close on the heels of that groundbreaking announcement of government. We are confident that South Africans are beginning to march in tune again in this new struggle. And we are even more confident that the international solidarity in the new war is as strong as it was in the struggle against apartheid.

We used to shout “Amandla ngawethu!” “Power to the people!” We shout it once more in this struggle against AIDS. The participation of artists from across the world gives added power to that slogan as it did in the past.

Please join me in thanking our comrades for joining us in a war that is critical to our survival.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation