Message by Nelson Mandela in support of "Night of a Thousand Dinners", Pretoria

November 2003

We stand at the dawn of an African century, a century where Africa will take its rightful place among the nations of the world. This is not an idle statement but one that has the full commitment of the people and leaders of the continent through the newly formed African Union and its plan for socio-economic reform, namely the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

However, there are still challenges and legacies of past conflict that need to be addressed in order that the ordinary men and women of this continent can actively participate in the upliftment of firstly, their families, then their communities and finally their countries. One of the most evil legacies is that of landmines. As has been said, these killers are blind weapons that cannot distinguish between the footfall of a soldier and that of an old woman gathering firewood. They recognize no cease-fire and long after the fighting has stopped, they can maim or kill the children and grandchildren of the soldiers who laid them.

We who can assist in ensuring that these weapons are removed from the ground and also that the lives of those that they have already affected are made whole again, must do so with the greatest vigour.

Landmines are not only an African concern they are a worldwide phenomenon that has attracted the attention of concerned citizens across the globe. Every year, approximately 18,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines and according to UNICEF, 30-40% of all mine victims are children. There are currently 70 million active landmines buried in the ground in more than 80 countries.

As part of this world wide concern I am proud to note that on Tuesday 25 November 2003, South Africans will join Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney, Her Majesty Queen Noor, and many others for the third annual Night of a Thousand Dinners, a global event where world leaders, celebrities, and caring citizens come together to dine and raise awareness and resources for the international landmine crisis. This year’s event also marks the sixth anniversary of the Convention on the Prohibition of the use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel mines and on their Destruction.

I am equally proud to acknowledge the passion of South Africa’s first lady of music, Miriam Makeba in helping to highlight the plight of victims of land mines and to ensure that the South African Night of a Thousand Dinners, to be held at Gallagher Estate, generates the response that it deserves. The Night of a Thousand Dinners was created so that people everywhere around the world could on one evening do something as simple as having dinner with friends and colleagues. The event is designed not only to raise money, but also to raise awareness among the general public about the worldwide threat that landmines pose.

The initiative of the Rotary movement in South Africa, particularly Pretoria East, in support of this event also needs to be acknowledged. Rotary are with the support of people like Miriam Makeba taking action in these uncertain times to help save the lives of people living in landmine-affected countries by supporting landmine victims in Mozambique, Angola, Burundi and indeed across the whole continent.

Southern Africa because of its history of colonialism, liberation struggles and apartheid is acknowledged as the most heavily mined region in the world. One only has to walk down the street of any city, town or village in Angola and Mozambique to see the devastation caused to ordinary people’s lives by these indiscriminate killers. But we in the sub-continent are proud not only of government institutions doing their best to eradicate the scourge of landmines but also of the spirit the of the victims of land mines who refuse to give up and are committed to rebuilding their lives in order that they can take their place as equals in the regeneration of our continent.

I wish Miriam Makeba, Rotary Pretoria East and all the organizers of a Night of a Thousand Dinners worldwide, all the best with this worthy initiative. Know that through your actions you are making a real and visible difference in the lives of people worldwide.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation