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The Closing Ceremony was attended by more people than any Closing Ceremony in AIDS Conference history because of the address by Nelson Mandela ("VIVA!")

 

 

CLOSING ADDRESS BY FORMER PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA
XIII INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE

14 JULY 2000, DURBAN SOUTH AFRICA

To have been asked to deliver the closing address at this conference, which in a very literal sense concerns itself with matters of life and death, weighs heavily upon me for the gravity of the responsibility placed on one.

No disrespect is intended towards the many other occasions where one has been privileged to speak, if I say that this is the one event where every word uttered, every gesture made, had to be measured against the effect it can and will have on the lives of millions of concrete, real human beings all over this continent and planet. This is not an academic conference. This is, as I understand it, a gathering of human beings concerned about turning around one of the greatest threats humankind has faced, and certainly the greatest after the end of the great wars of the previous century.

It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact upon the way people live and die.

If by way of introduction I stress the importance of the way we speak, it is also because so much unnecessary attention around this conference had been directed towards a dispute that is unintentionally distracting from the real life and death issues we are confronted with as a country, a region, a continent and a world.

I do not know nearly enough about science and its methodologies or about the politics of science and scientific practice to even wish to start contributing to the debate that has been raging on the perimeters of this conference.

I am, however, old enough and have gone through sufficient conflicts and disputes in my life-time to know that in all disputes a point is arrived at where no party, no matter how right or wrong it might have been at the start of that dispute, will any longer be totally in the right or totally in the wrong. Such a point, I believe, has been reached in this debate.

The President of this country is a man of great intellect who takes scientific thinking very seriously and he leads a government that I know to be committed to those principles of science and reaso