Address by Nelson Mandela at 46664 Concert, George

19 March 2005

Good evening everyone. I am so pleased to be here in George with you, enjoying this wonderful concert.

You may well ask, what is this old age pensioner doing here tonight, when he is supposed to have retired. Yes, I would love to enjoy the peace and quiet of retirement, but I know that like many of you, I cannot rest easily while our beloved continent is ravaged by a deadly epidemic.

We are all affected by the AIDS pandemic. But more than others, this epidemic carries the face of women. For it is women who bear the most significant burden of HIV and AIDS.

As daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers, every day they experience and live out the reality of this epidemic.

Tonight we celebrate the woman of Africa. And in celebrating this wonderful gift, we must proclaim that the women of Africa cannot continue to bear the burden of HIV and AIDS alone.

For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity. For every woman forced into unprotected sex because men demand this, we destroy dignity and pride. Every woman who has to sell her life for sex we condemn to a lifetime in prison. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women. For every woman infected by HIV, we destroy a generation.

Tonight my call is: GIVE A VOICE TO THE WOMEN OF AFRICA in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Let their voices be heard in the centres of power. Let their voices be heard in the home. Let their voices be heard in the farms and factories, in the towns and villages.

You have heard the story of Gertrude and her battle with AIDS. Her courage and determination is an example of how strong we can be. Annie has reminded us that we have to respond and respond now.

In 2003 I gave permission for the use of my Robben Island prison number FOUR DOUBLE SIX SIX FOUR as a weapon in the struggle against AIDS. I did so remembering how in the long years on Robben Island, we never lost hope. There were indeed dark days, but we held our strength and always knew here were so many people in South Africa and around the world who believed in our struggle for justice.

Today there are millions of women in Africa living on their own Robben Islands, struggling against terrible odds, alone and often without much hope. Tonight, you and I can say: we are here to help you give hope and strength.

But we have to say more than that. We have to say this must be a turning point. We are here to say that justice will not be achieved until every woman is in full control of her own life, and that control is practically implemented via her human rights.

We can move toward this turning point in different ways. First, we need to talk more about the women’s face of this epidemic. In the pages of statistics, this reality is often lost. We must hear and understand more about how this epidemic impacts on the lives of women.

We must be honest and open about the power relationships between men and women in our society, and we must help build a more enabling and supportive environment that puts the role of women centre stage in this struggle.

Each one of us - sister and brother, mother and father, teacher and student, priest and parishioner, manager and worker, Presidents and Prime Ministers, must add our voice to this call for action.

Not tomorrow, or the next week - but now.

You can help break the silence. Talk about HIV and AIDS. You can urge your leaders to do more and act now. You can show more care and compassion. You can protect our woman and the next generation.

We hold the future of this continent in our hands. Let us use the universal language of music to sing out our message around the world.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation