Nelson Mandela International Day 2016 honours our late founding President on his birthday, 18 July. This special day will focus international attention on one of Africa’s great sons and leaders, whose legacy lives on beyond our national borders.
As government, we join the Nelson Mandela Foundation in promoting the month of July as a period of public and neighbourly service by all citizens.
Themes for the month and 18 July itself include food security, education and literacy, shelter and infrastructure, and service and volunteerism.
The month covers such initiatives as food gardens that help people maintain a healthy and active life, the building of homes, and giving one’s time and resources to assist those in our society who are in the greatest need.
The spirit that lies at the heart of such actions will no doubt capture the attention of people around the globe and inspire them to commit themselves to performing acts of goodwill.
As the ultimate, selfless public servant, Madiba declared: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
It is, of course, my hope that the selfless service we will see around our country this month will carry on beyond Mandela Month and that we will make it part of who we are as a nation.
This year, 18 July will be special for another important reason: on that day we will see the start of the five-day 21st International AIDS Conference, or AIDS 2016 as it is commonly known, at the Chief Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
The conference theme - Access Equity Rights – Now – is a call to action to everyone around the world to work together and reach the people who still lack access to comprehensive treatment, prevention, care and support services.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
This conference is held every two years. It will be hosted by South Africa for the second time; the first time being in 2000. The gathering will always be remembered for the stirring appeal made by Nkosi Johnson (12) for treatment and care for people living with HIV.
At the time, Nkosi was the longest-surviving child born with HIV in South Africa. He died of AIDS several months later.
South Africa’s battle against HIV, AIDS and TB has come a long way since those dark days when our national response was not coherent and we did not invest enough in fighting this epidemic.
South Africa took action by introducing a significant change in policy in 2009 and making the necessary investment to push back HIV, AIDS and TB.
Today, we have the world’s biggest HIV and AIDS treatment programme, which started with the launch of the world’s biggest testing campaign in 2010.
However, we face an uphill battle in the way we behave in personal and intimate relationships.
From 18 to 22 July, government and people of South Africa will join the International Aids Conference convenors, the International AIDS Society, in examining new medical breakthroughs worldwide and campaigns to influence behaviour positively.
Through government and civil society’s participation in the conference, South Africa will demonstrate that we have indeed come a long way.
But we will also talk openly about our ongoing struggle against HIV, AIDS and TB.
AIDS 2016 organisers have gone to great lengths – never seen before in the history of the International AIDS Conference – to ensure that as many South Africans and visitors as possible have free access to conference proceedings.
It will also be an opportunity for us to remember the occasion on 6 January 2005 when Madiba held a press conference to disclose that his own son, Makgatho (54), had died due to AIDS-related factors.
AIDS 2016 should motivate our recommitment to
making a difference in the lives of those around us – and in our own lives – by being responsible in our own relationships and providing information, treatment and care to others.
Success in numbers
Within 18 months of the launch of the worldís biggest testing campaign in 2010 18 million South Africans were tested.
AIDS deaths in South Africa declined from 320 000 in 2010 to 140 000 in 2014.
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV decreased from 70 000 babies in 2004 to less than 7 000 in 2015.