WANTED: new hands FOR sa

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

"Where there is poverty and sickness, including Aids, where human beings are oppressed, there is more work to be done.

"Our work is for freedom for all ... We say tonight, after nearly 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands."

This was Nelson Mandela's message on Friday June 27 to the thousands of fans who attended the 46664 concert - and the millions who watched on TV - at Hyde Park in London to celebrate his 90th birthday.

In a way Mandela was making an appeal to all those who were listening to take the baton from his tired 90-year-old hands and run with it in the race to change the world for the better.

Today it is this most famous greatgrandfather, grandfather and father's 90th birthday. Mandela's office said that he will celebrate his birthday tomorrow with family and close friends in his Eastern Cape ancestral village of Qunu.


For Mandela it is indeed 90 years of a life lived well and from which South Africa and the world can only learn.

Not only has he played a significant role in ushering South Africa into a democracy, he has also left a legacy of selflessness, humility and a commitment to changing the lives of the most vulnerable.

This he has done through his many projects, including the Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF) and the 46664 initiative aimed at fighting the scourge of HIV-Aids.

Last week at a Mandela birthday cele- bration, hosted by the NMCF, the chairman of the board of trustees, Judge Dikgang Moseneke, related the story of how Madiba started the fund.

One night, just before South Africa's first democratic election in April 1994, Madiba had just stepped out of an exclusive hotel in Cape Town where he had been attending a meeting.

Before he could get into his car he was mobbed by a group of about 20 children who had run up to him.

The natural reaction from his security personnel was to try to stop them. Mandela thought otherwise.

"Why do you stop them?" he asked.

Mandela insisted on speaking to them, asking where they came from and who their parents were.

"Why do you love us?" the children asked. "How do you know that I love you?" was Mandela's reaction to the question.

And came the answer to Madiba's question: "Because when you got money from overseas you gave it to us."

They were referring to the Nobel Peace Prize money Mandela had shared with charity organisations dealing with children.


Mandela assured them that their parents loved them as much, the only difference being that he had received money without working for it and therefore was able to give it away.

Mandela was deeply moved by the sight of "street kids" that have come to be accepted as a permanent feature of our daily lives. In his eyes these were children deprived of education and desperately living on the edge of neglect.

And that experience was a deciding factor in Mandela coming up with an idea of a children's fund dedicated to the needs and aspirations of children and the youth.

His idea of a fund was of one that could react urgently to the immediate needs of the children such as those he had met outside the hotel.

The official announcement to establish the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund came with a public statement as president of the Republic South Africa on June 16 1994, the 18th anniversary of the Soweto student uprisings.

It was significant that Mandela chose June 16 to initiate a fund dedicated to bettering the lives of South African children. This is the day when South Africa celebrates the youths who laid down their lives for the freedom of the country. Mandela did not stop there.

He went further and contributed one third of his salary (R150000) for the five years of his term as president of South Africa to ensure that the fund took off.

He saw the NMCF as a means of making his own personal contribution to the United Nation's World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of the Child.

His announcement sent a powerful message to the government, the corporate world and civil society that the plight of disadvantaged children should receive the nation's urgent attention.

In this year of Madiba's 90th birthday, the fund has grown into being a children's platform of local and international repute.

As part of last week's celebration the NMCF hosted a youth parliament where youths from the SADC region came together to tell the world about the challenges they continue to face as children of the developing world.

These challenges include poverty, HIV-Aids, sexual abuse and the lack of access to quality education.

Despite these challenges, the young ones thanked Madiba for "giving them hope about the future".

Happy birthday, Madiba!

Indeed it is now time for new hands to lift the burdens.

The future is indeed in our hands.

Khulula iimbadada ugqatso ulufezile!