Mandela ‘helped world break silence on Aids’


6 December 2013

The South African National Aids Council (Sanac) and the Civil Society Forum joined the rest of the world in paying tribute to former president Nelson Mandela following his passing away on Thursday night, saying the HIV community “will sorely miss his cherished role in the response to addressing the epidemic”.

Sanac CEO Fareed Abdullah said Mandela’s selflessness and dedication was the kind of force that South Africa – a country where some 6-million people are living with HIV – needed to break the back of the HIV epidemic.

“A very bright light has just gone dim,” Abdullah said in a statement on Friday. “Mandela played a significant role behind the scenes in 2002 to 2003 to change the government’s policy on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

“He visited the first public sector ARV treatment programme in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, and publicly declared his support for treatment. During his visit, he told people that he was paying for a university student’s ARV treatment and had seen her rise from her deathbed and live a purposeful and successful life.”

Abdullah recalled that during his single term of office from the years 1994 to 1999, Mandela was relatively quiet on the HIV/Aids front, but this changed in the following years and he went on to become a global voice in the fight against the epidemic.

“His most prominent contribution is probably through the 46664 campaign, a music-led HIV/Aids awareness campaign, which got its name from his prison number during his imprisonment on Robben Island.

“Mandela has financed various HIV/Aids projects through his Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, ranging from scientific surveys to programmes for Aids orphans. Mandela had a love for humanity, particularly for children,” Abdullah said.

“On 6 January 2005, Mandela lost his only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, to an Aids-related illness. At a time when many people would be silent on the cause of death because of the shame and stigma that Aids attracts, Mandela was bold enough to announce the cause of his only son’s passing.”

Shortly after his son’s death, Mandela urged the public to give publicity to HIV/Aids, as he believed it was the only way of de-stigmatising it.

In an interview with a French news agency, executive director of UNAids Michel Sidibe said Mandela’s legacy was that of non-discrimination, inclusiveness and making sure that the world continues to fight for the rights of people without rights.

“That is what he brought to the fight against HIV/Aids,” Sidibe said. “In June this year, while he was fighting for his life in hospital, the head of the UN’s Aids prevention agency hailed Nelson Mandela for his role in breaking the silence and shame surrounding the deadly disease. He was the one who really helped us break the conspiracy of silence.”

Sanac and the Civil Society Forum paid tribute to Madiba, saying: “As the South African National Aids Council and indeed the HIV community, we can never thank Mandela enough for his role and contribution in our cause. We say: Ndlela nhle! Lala ngoxolo! Tsela tshweu tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!”