Remarks by Ms Sue van der Merwe, Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs, on the occasion of the DFA HIV and AIDS Candlelight Memorial, Monday,
22 May 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen
I first of all take this opportunity to thank the Employee Wellness Centre for
arranging this Candlelight Memorial as we remember those who have died from Aids
related diseases from our own families, from our DFA family, in the country and
indeed in the world at large.
With our frantic and busy schedules it is
easy to forget some of the things that matter most in life. Often, our physical,
mental and spiritual health is neglected in the course of chasing deadlines to
finish this or that task. Eventually however, this neglect catches up with us.
The tragic consequences of the HI Virus that affect all of us, starkly reminds
us of our limitations as mortals.
Our mandate as the Department of Foreign
Affairs is to promote our country's domestic interests abroad. We do not do this
in a vacuum. We rely on the collective skills and talents of our officials here
at Head Office and our diplomats all over the world. Given the increasing challenges
in an ever-globalising world, the scourge of HIV and AIDS poses a serious challenge
to our ability as a country and as an organisation, which already faces human
and financial resource constraints.
A key pillar of our foreign policy
agenda is the Consolidation of the African Agenda. We regard our region, SADC
as our gateway to the continent. Yet according to UNAIDS, Sub-Saharan Africa,
is estimated to have just over 10% of the worlds population, but is home to more
than 60% of all people living with HIV - around 25.8 million. Southern Africa,
is regarded as the epicentre of the global AIDS pandemic. Naturally, this is a
cause for concern for us as it affects our human capital, which is essential in
ensuring that we are able to implement our country's and our continent's development
programme, as well as to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 target.
years ago we celebrated ten years of freedom and democracy and last year, the
50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter. This year we celebrate a number of key
milestones in our history as a country. These include the 10th anniversary of
the adoption of our constitution, the Women's March to the Union Buildings 50
years ago and the 30th anniversary of June 16th Soweto Uprising, Youth Day as
we have named it. The significance of mentioning these events is that all of them
were sustained human rights campaigns aimed at ending apartheid and creating a
society in which everyone's inherent dignity and the right to respect are protected.
are reminded that the joint actions of millions of South Africans and indeed millions
of our friends across the world, working together, enabled us to bring about our
freedom. Again joint effort is required in the quest to rid our global society
of HIV and AIDS.
We are also reminded about how resilient South African's
have been and continue to be in the face of adversity. However, time is against
us and we must act now and act decisively. Experience has shown that decisive
action, backed by political support, can radically improve the outlook.
1994, the current government has made many strides towards its transformation
and setting in place the necessary legislative and policy frameworks to deal with
In the workplace our government has effected legislative
and policies measures to align ourselves with international trends in preventing
stigmatisation and discrimination on the basis of HIV infection. This applies
to staff recruitment and promotion, to employment and benefits.
of Public Service and Administration is responsible for implementing employee
health and wellness programmes that include a comprehensive strategy for the management
of HIV and AIDS. This strategy supports initiatives to mitigate the impact of
HIV and AIDS in the public service. In our own department this work is lead by
As already indicated, there is no single solution to this problem
and our campaigns will be multifaceted. Legislation and policies alone will not
be enough to overcome the problem. We need to give these initiatives life by involving
South Africans from all sectors of society; from the cities and towns, to the
farms and rural villages; the wealthy and poor, from every aspect of our civil
society and from government. We must harness and use this social capital as a
formidable force towards victory over HIV infection and the impact of AIDS.
we are marking this campaign here today, this candlelight memorial. This is an
international campaign, which was initiated by the Global AIDS Council in 1983
when the cause of AIDS was unknown and no more than a few thousand AIDS deaths
had been recorded. The organizers wished to honor the memory of those lost to
this mysterious disease and to demonstrate support for those living with AIDS.
We in the dfa have developed an HIV and AIDS policy as part of our wellness
services intended to assist staff members who experience problems associated with
HIV and AIDS and that impact on their work. This is in recognition of the profound
threat that the pandemic poses on our activities, but more importantly also the
recognition of the devastating personal consequences of the syndrome on us as
human beings. The Department has thus, in an effort to mitigate the effects of
the pandemic, initiated a proactive HIV and AIDS workplace policy to ensure that
a conducive environment is created to deal with the concerns of all its employees.
we observe the Candlelight Memorial once a year, we also have the Employee Wellbeing
Centre where we provide sustained employee services throughout the year to take
care of the well being of our staff. This Centre does not only provide HIV and
AIDS related services, but seeks to deal with all other aspects of health and
well being, including physical, mental and spiritual.
The Centre also regularly
arranges events to raise awareness and educate as well as support national initiatives
such as the Khomanani project, which is aimed at strengthening social mobilisation
and generating greater ownership and involvement in the prevention activities
by communities. The department also commemorated World Aids Day (5th of December
2005) and our officials committed themselves to work for a caring and supportive
environment for HIV infected and affected people in the society.
through the EWC, collaborates with other departments such as Health and Social
Development on HIV and AIDS matters. The EWC has created a network system with
external help centres such as Home Based Care, Hospices and other health centres
for referral purpose.
I am pleased to say that the Departmental programme
was regarded as one of the best programmes by the DPSA. To this end, the department
was included in the DPSA study on best practices. The Department was also requested
to exhibit the programme at the AIDS Conference held in Durban in 2005.
I believe that the dfa has begun in various ways to become part of the solution.
We do not have all the answers but we wish to be part of that solution through
our collective efforts. There are a number of actions that we as colleagues in
the Department can and have taken to contribute to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
we can say that our starting point is understanding that we are people first before
we are anything else. What we make of the future depends on what we take from
our past. All of us who are present here today share a common past based on racial
discrimination which, through a collective and sustained campaign we were able
to overcome. The scourge of AIDS today affects each of us here because we know
of someone infected with the HI Virus or dying from AIDS.
We know HIV and
AIDS does not discriminate. It is not limited to a particular, race, gender, nation,
social class or geographical location. The United Nations Secretary General captured
this very well when he said that "We must make people everywhere understand
that the AIDS crisis in not over; that it is not about a few foreign countries,
far away. This is a threat to an entire generation, that it is a threat to an
The nature of the challenge before us, therefore,
requires that we act collectively to make an effective impact. We should remain
constantly alert therefore, that as we go about our daily activities to meet deadlines
and busy schedules, to the seriousness of HIV and AIDS and take care of our health.
those of you who will go out to our missions abroad as diplomats to promote our
foreign policy objectives, do so cognisant of our joint commitment to the creation
of better Africa and a better world. In this regard, we need to align ourselves
with key international efforts such as the decision taken by the African Ministers
of Health taken last year to develop country specific strategies to accelerate
the prevention of HIV and AIDS.
We as a Department also need to look after
our human capital and must from time to time engage with each other on some of
the problems that our people encounter on a daily basis.
To the memory of
those who died of AIDS, may they rest in peace and to those living with the disease
our thoughts, support and prayers are with you.
I thank you.
by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152