STATEMENT BY MR F W DE KLERK; ST MARY’S CATHEDRAL, JOHANNESBURG,
6 DECEMBER 2000
I have been asked to say a few words about the third ‘c’ of AIDS – the cure. This is a difficult task since it does not exist at present. Nevertheless, AIDS can be beaten – if we consider four other ‘c’s – commitment, communication, conduct and concerted action to combat the conditions in which AIDS thrives.
The first requirement is absolute commitment to the battle against AIDS. The threat is so enormous that it is difficult for us to assimilate and understand it. Only three weeks ago there were double page advertisements in our newspapers warning that half of our dear children under the age of 15 would be dead before they reach the age of 35. The lives of millions of our children are in mortal peril because of the threat of AIDS. The catastrophe that confronts us will be more terrible than the holocaust that killed six million Jews; it will take many more lives than the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi.
We need a national commitment to mobilise all our resources to defeat AIDS. If an enemy were massing on our borders to invade us and to attack our women and children we would immediately place the country on a war footing and dedicate all our resources to defending our people. And yet we face a far more deadly enemy. We spend tens of billions of rand to defend ourselves against some possible future military threat. Should we not be spending as much money to combat an actual enemy that is without doubt already within our gates?
We must apply every sinew of our strength, every facet of our ingenuity, to repel the dreaded invader. Just as Winston Churchill called on the people of Britain to withstand the onslaught of Nazi Germany in the darkest days of World War II, our leaders must call on all our people to join the struggle. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: we must fight AIDS in our schoolrooms; we must fight it in our churches and mosques; we must fight it in our villages and in the sprawling shanty towns around our cities; we must fight it in the streets and in the fields; we must fight it in our parliaments and in our council chambers. Like the people of Britain during the Second World War, we must never surrender.
In this commitment we must all take hands. Aids has to be lifted out of the political arena. As a nation, irrespective of our differences, we must take hands and work together. And with the care and compassion that the other speakers spoke about, we must form a united front.
The best defence against AIDS is the second ‘c’, communication.
We know what causes AIDS.
We know how to stop it from spreading. We know how to protect our children and ourselves. We must communicate the message of how we can defeat AIDS at every opportunity. We must communicate it in our homes and in our schools. We must spread the message in our places of work and when we get together for recreation; it must be sung in our songs and depicted in our paintings; it must be whispered into the ears of lovers; it must be shouted by children to one another in their games; it must be written on our walls and in our books.
The third ‘c’ that we can use to defeat AIDS is our conduct – and specifically our sexual conduct. We must encourage our children to abstain from sex until they are married. Married couples must be faithful to one another. We must discourage promiscuous sex. Women must be empowered to say ‘no’ to unsafe sex. Men, who unthinkingly have sex with multiple partners are as deadly as assassins.
In addition, condoms must be readily available to every sexually active person in the country. The cost of providing them will be far smaller than the cost of AIDS. Funds simply must be found. How many condoms could we buy for the price of a corvette?
Finally, we must combat the conditions in which AIDS thrives. Although the seed of AIDS is the HIV virus there is no doubt that it germinates and flourishes in conditions of poverty, deprivation and illiteracy. The challenge that confronts us all is to address the root causes of the vicious cycle of poverty. We must continue to create an environment in which economic growth can take place; in which real jobs can be created and in which a better life can be assured for all our people.
I am confident that if we address these four ‘c’s – commitment to national mobilisation; communication; conduct and concerted action to combat poverty and deprivation, we will be able to defeat the disease – or at least hold it at bay until we have discovered a medical cure.
In the meantime we must redouble our efforts to find a cure for AIDS. In this we need governments and the private sector to unite and to dramatically step up research. At the same time we must also make full use of anti-retroviral drugs that can retard its progress.
History and our children have thrown down the challenge. We must not rest until we have freed our country and our people from the threat of this dreadful pandemic.