Johannesburg - A brighter future for Africa lies in a healthy and educated youth, multi-billionaire and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, said as he delivered the keynote address at the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Series at the University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi campus on Sunday.
This year’s theme was “Living Together” with a special focus on those who gave their lives during the Struggle for liberation.
Gates, who founded Microsoft at the tender age of 19, said he and his wife Melinda, had decided health would be one of the central focuses when they started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The youth must be given an opportunity to thrive. We must clear away the obstacles that keep young people from growing,” he said.
Gates, who will also speak at the International HIV/Aids conference in Durban, said one of these obstacles was inadequate healthcare.
He spoke of the high rates of HIV infections in young people and how these have risen since 1990 in Africa.
“HIV and TB continue to wage a devastating toll in South Africa,” he said.
More needed to be done to combat HIV, such as oral anti-HIV medication, or pills taken only once a month or even a vaccine.
“If we don’t continue our fight against HIV/Aids the hard-earned gains in Africa will be reversed.”
The philanthropist pledged to donate another $5 billion (R72.8bn) to Africa in the next five years.
Gates said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already invested more than $9 billion in Africa. Health is a major focus.
Gates warned that if the world doesn't come up with more creative ways to make HIV treatment and prevention accessible, “the hard-earned gains made against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 15 years could actually be reversed” as high birth rates continue.
He said Africa is the world's youngest continent in terms of demographics. “By 2050, 40 percent of the world's children will live on this continent,” he said.
Still, he said Africa had made notable progress in fighting Aids, saying that the last time South Africa hosted the global conference 16 years ago, only a few thousand Africans were on HIV drugs. At the time, the drugs were too expensive for many in the region hardest hit by the epidemic.
South Africa now says half of its infected population of 6.8 million people is on treatment.
Gates noted that Mandela fought stigma by announcing publicly the death of his son from Aids in 2005.
Another point he emphasised was good quality education.”South Africa is blessed to have some of the best universities in Africa, like the one we are in now.”
When a child’s body and brain were healthy, the next step was education, he said. “A good education is the best lever we have to give young people what they need to make the best of their lives.”
He praised the high quality of South Africa’a higher education facilities and said through education Africa’s youth would have economic opportunities.
“Healthy and educated young people are eager to make their way in the world.”
Gates also touched on energy shortages on the continent and their impact on the economy as well as the need for agricultural growth.
Despite the various challenges Africa faced, he said, he believed Africa had what it took to have the future it wanted.
“Our duty is to invest in the young people and our duty is to do it now. There is so much work that still needs to be done for us all to be able to live together.”
In the only sharp words of his address, he said: “I get angry when I see that Africa is suffering the worst effects of climate change, although Africans had almost nothing to do with causing it.”
Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang announced a book the foundation had published on food security that would help in school feeding schemes and garden projects.
This book will help counter food insecurity which affects children’s bodies and their abilities to learn at school.
Professor Cheryl de la Rey, vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, said the “Living Together” theme was the greatest joy and the greatest challenge for humankind at this time.
“With high unemployment, inequality and rising poverty levels, South Africans have found it harder to live together.
“Racial tensions, labour unrest as well as increasingly violent protests have become all too common,” she said.
De la Rey said institutions of higher learning have a pivotal role in promoting peaceful co-existence between humans and between humans and the environment.
Meanwhile, despite it being close to three years since the death of former president and world icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela - the call for people to do their 67 minutes of good for Mandela Day is still growing in momentum.
The day is in its 6th year running since it was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009.
The first UN Mandela Day - held on July, 18, 2010 - is said to have gained is own unique meaning to communities across South Africa and the world over.
Spokeswoman for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Lunga Nene, said studies and assessments done following the day’s celebrations in previous years showed that the number of people participating in the day had not declined but rather more and more institutions had embraced the idea.
“We’ve discovered that instead of people forgetting the day there has been a shift in motivation and it has taken on a genuine feel of people selflessly giving of their time,” she said. “Even in the under-performing economy people still commit to the day because it’s not about money but doing something as simple as reading for an orphaned child that makes a huge difference in their lives.
“It’s about service to your fellow man.”
Nene said even with the passing of the country’s statesman the day had continued to garner a lot of interest internationally.
“The Department of International Relations and Co-operation has been able to attest to the amount of interest coming in from out of the country to take part in Mandela Day.
“Many embassies are also quite keen to have us co-ordinate activities for them to do something special on the day,” she said.
Nene said the foundation was still trying to create a platform that would allow for these kinds of activities to become the norm rather than to be reserved for one day a year.
“What we are trying to push through to people is the mindset that doing things for others should not be restricted to one day and we’re pleased that there are companies already doing more things aside fromthat day.
“Research results from Statistics SA early this year show that the number of South Africans volunteering for community causes and projects has almost doubled in just over two years. Since most people work in businesses, we must assume that this carries through to companies too,” Nene said.
“There hasn’t been a decline in company involvement in community development work or giving of different sorts. Our Muthobi Foundation Nation Builder programme, which encourages companies to do just that, has received strong support and an increasing number of queries for advice this past year alone,” said Paul Pereira.
Despite it not being reported as often, the coming together of communities and people for the betterment of the whole, and for nation building in general, should be welcomed and encouraged.”It may be happening far more than we sometimes may imagine.”