Address delivered by the Deputy President, Mrs Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the Candlelight Memorial, Mangaung

Premier of the Free State, Beatrice Marshoff,
MEC for Health, Mr Sakhile Belot,
Honoured guests,
Citizens of Mangaung,
Fellow South Africans,

The candlelight memorial that we commemorate today is a day when we look into our souls and remember the people we knew and who have passed on because of HIV and AIDS. Most of our families have encountered the sadness, ill health and emptiness that characterise living with HIV and AIDS.

And all of us need moments and days when we can face up to the painful emotions and memories because someone who is dear to us is no longer there.

Candlelight memorial is such a day. By getting together whether it's here in Mangaung or anywhere else across the country, we are saying to one another that we realise there's grief amongst us and that it is correct to express the pain. When we are able to hold hands and to share positive thoughts and words we can comfort and support one another and as human beings we need to give and to receive support from the people around us.

HIV and AIDS touch so many aspects of our lives. On the first level they have to do with our health. For months and years we may not know we're carrying the virus. But eventually there comes a time when our health is not so good any longer, when we feel weak and cannot eat, we cough or we have sores. From there other illnesses associated with HIV and AIDS weaken our immune system and many of us die prematurely because of it.

At another level HIV affects our feelings and our psychology. We become scared. We feel alone. We feel ashamed. We feel let down and confused. We grieve for the ones we've lost or those we are going to lose.

So HIV and AIDS impact on our family lives and on our personal and workplace relationships. Friendships become strained. We start to reassess how we talk to our parents, colleagues, teachers, managers, priests and even unknown people we meet in a shop or at a garage.

What I'm trying to say to you is that I understand what it means living with HIV and AIDS. And I'm certain that individually and collectively many of us understand what it means living with HIV. But we don't share this understanding enough we close it up into ourselves we shut the family, friends, the whole community outside and suffer each one individually.

If I could change one thing by sharing this day with you today, I'd like to see us all being able to talk to each other more openly about what it means living with HIV and AIDS. This brings me to the theme for this year's candlelight memorial. It's the theme that we share with other countries that are also commemorating candlelight memorial with their own people.

"Lighting the path to a brighter future" is an inspiring theme that we should learn from. Light brings openness, daylight, fresh air, hope. Together we can share this light so that we can accept our own HIV status and so we can make sure we prevent new HIV infections. Light also brings comfort to the families that have lost loved ones.

As government and as individuals who care we encourage those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS to go beyond mourning and start believing in the future full of possibilities. There is life after HIV and no one should give in or willingly loose the battle to the virus.

Let's learn from the losses we've suffered as a nation and realise that we have the ability to stop people from becoming infected. And future will be brighter then.

We will be healthier and we'll get much more out of life whether we're rich or poor.

Today though and every day ahead of us let's remember that there is no cure for AIDS, despite ongoing research to find a cure. Prevention of HIV infections is the most urgent priority for us as individuals and as family members and communities and for the government of South Africa.

We have declared this year as the year for accelerated prevention of new HIV infections. You, I, all of us must participate in the prevention efforts. Abstinence and avoiding risky sexual encounters helps to lower the rate of new infections.

Having sex with a condom helps reduce the number of infections. Having sex only within a faithful relationship decreases the risk of HIV infection. Talking about HIV and its prevention in families, schools and in communities helps prevent HIV infection.

Secondly, take that relationship to the next level of mutual trust and commitment and go for an HIV test with your partner. Knowing your HIV status will give you the power to lead your life in accordance with the positive or negative status.

Thirdly, find out where you can access the medical and social support services that are being strengthened through the ongoing implementation of the government's comprehensive plan for HIV and AIDS.

As a member of our government, I'm glad that our government has introduced a number of resources for people living with HIV and AIDS including the Comprehensive Care, Management, Treatment and Support Programme (CCMTSP) which assists affected people with medical and social resources needed to continue leading a healthy and economically viable lifestyle.

The Department of Health has enabled 231 clinics to service patients who require life long antiretroviral treatment for HIV and AIDS.

With new patients entering the system each day, I am encouraged that over 120 000 South Africans are receiving antiretroviral treatment through the public sector. This treatment extends lives. But more importantly it enables parents to care for children. It enables teachers to continue to teach learners. And today, we should acknowledge that it gives hope and lights up a path to a brighter future.

Stay safe always.

I thank you

Issued by: The Presidency
21 May 2006


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