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Mandela, Clinton link hands against Aids
Former presidents Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Bill Clinton of the United States attended a ceremony on in support of the loveLife initiative.

Former presidents Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Bill Clinton of the United States attended a ceremony on Saturday to celebrate the partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation in support of the loveLife initiative.

The ceremony took place at the loveLife centre in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg.

loveLife is the country's HIV/Aids prevention project targeting the youth since 1999.

In his address, Clinton said he had decided to get involved in the fight against the epidemic after his presidency ended.

"I was too young to retire so I decided to get more young people involved in their communities in the fight against the HIV/Aids epidemic and in solving their own problems.

"I am here today because I want young people to take responsibility for themselves and take the tide against HIV."

"The HIV/Aids problem to me is the most heartbreaking problem in the world because no one has to die of Aids. The older you get the more you want every young person to get another life and share the joys that I have had ...

"So you guys keep talking and see and just remember that I want for you to have a life I have had with all the joys and avoid some of the pains I went through ... but remember most of that life you will have to make for yourselves and that depends on your safety ..."

Mandela said Clinton was one of the greatest advocates Africa had ever had in the United States and he was now devoting his considerable energy, influence and intellect to the fight against HIV/Aids.

"This place where we are today, Orange Farm, is the product of decades of struggle against efforts of the apartheid regime to deport black people to live in homelands far away from the centres of employment and economic activity.

"Orange farm is many respects testimony to our people's resilience and fighting spirit.

"Our nation is now confronting an even heavier challenge and greater fight. HIV/Aids threatens to decimate our country.

"Already more than five million South Africans are HIV-positive and without dramatic intervention this number is projected to at least double in the next eight-to-ten years."

Mandela said the only way to reduce the overall prevalence of HIV/Aids was to prevent people getting infected in the first place.

"This is not easy because of the fact that HIV/Aids is so inextricably linked to sexual behaviour.

"Yet in South Africa, and many of the worst affected nations, there is a window of opportunity. More than 40% of our population is today under 15 years of age and mostly still not sexually active.

"If we can dramatically reduce the rate of HIV infection among this population we will have a real prospect of substantially curtailing the projected scale of the epidemic," he said.

Failure would lead to a massive ballooning of the epidemic, the former South African president said.

"We are here today to celebrate a new partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and loveLife.

"This event demonstrates that our support for loveLife is not just about handing over a cheque, but to show the world we are rolling up our sleeves to join you in the trenches as fully active partners in your effort to reduce HIV infection among our young people," the popular leader added.

Mandela applauded the government for its support of loveLife, not only ensuring government funding for its programmes but also for government's farsightedness in recognising that a different approach to HIV education was needed if it wanted to get the attention of young people.

He also stated that a soon-to-be-released survey of HIV-affected households by the Kaiser Family Foundation had found that fewer than 16% of these households were succeeding in accessing available government grants, and only about 20% were getting any kind of assistance in providing home-based care for Aids-sick people.

Mandela also said he would like to speak to corporate leaders who were not present at the ceremony.

"There can be no excuse for South African corporations not to be at the forefront of the battle against HIV/Aids."

He reiterated that no one suffering from HIV Aids should be stigmatised.

"Embrace and appreciate the values of humility and simplicity displayed by some of our great leaders like Walter Sisulu. He is one of the men who stands head and shoulder above all of us...He pushes us all forward yet he remains in the background."

"Finally we have been hailed as a miracle nation, and that is not for nothing, so our people should behave accordingly...," Mandela said.

Chief executive officer of loveLife, Dr David Harrison, said on Saturday: "The event celebrates a new funding partnership between the US-based Henry J. Kaiser Family foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation in support of loveLife's groundbreaker programme."

The Nelson Mandela Foundation also invited a young HIV-positive activist who established the Pacific Islands Aids Foundation in June 2002.

Speaking at the Orange Farm event, Bopp, who was invited along with her family to South Africa, said: "I know sometimes we feel so alone, and there are so many obstacles and barriers but overtime you feel that way remember that there are many in the same position as you in this big ocean of the Pacific...

"If Mandela could endure so much and go through something like that, I thought to myself, why can't I do it... But you people are lucky because he (Mandela) is yours -- he is leading you in the struggle against the epidemic, and if you follow him you will succeed."

Bopp added: "There are many problems and difficulties in life, but don't be afraid of HIV and of breaking the barriers. And at the end of the day, all we want and need is love, care and support..."

Other speakers at the event included Social Development Minister, Dr Zola Skweyiya, Mandela's daughter Zinzi Mandela-Hlongwane, who is on the loveLife national advisory board, Dr Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Professor Charles Ogletree, from the School of Law at Harvard University.

Earlier on the day, Clinton met President Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Hundreds of people, including VIPs and school children, attended the three-hour function.

US actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker were amongst the guests. - Sapa