Africa : Gracia Machel Decries Southern Africa’s Plight...

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  1. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Feb 3, 2001
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    New York
    By Charles Hallman
    Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

    Former first lady of Mozambique concludes ‘Great Conversations’ lecture series

    The future of Southern Africa is in grave peril because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, says the former first lady of Mozambique. "I don't think any of us can comprehend what is going to happen to our nation because of HIV/AlDS," proclaimed Gracia Machel, adding that thousands are dying as a result. She and University of Minnesota history professor Allen Isaacman appeared at the school's final 2004-05 "Great Conversations" lecture series April 19 at the Ted Mann Theater.

    "What we have as a problem is how AIDS came to the African countries, "Machel said. “A middle generation is gone," she continued. "Grandparents are educating their grandchildren." Machel said that Mozambique still hasn't fully recovered from a five-year war with neighboring countries Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa after it won independence from Portugal in 1975, after four centuries of colonial rule. At least one million people are believed to have lost their lives because of the war; approximately every third Mozambican became a refugee in their own country. An estimated two million people fled to other countries.

    The influx of refugees from other war-torn African countries – along with soldiers raping women and children – contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS. "The high rate of AIDS is directly related to conflicts, "Machel noted.

    She and lssacman, a longtime friend, both criticized the Bush administration for its neglect of Southern Africa. Machel said that Bush is too selective on which African country gets assistance. Some countries need immediate help, such as Swaziland, whose population is so ravaged by HIV/AIDS that, in her opinion, the country will soon disappear. "We should do a lot more," Issacman said of the U.S., who added that the administration puts too many conditions on any economic help, such as AIDS prevention." The Bush administration is trying to remake Africa in their own image," the professor surmised. Instead, Bush should see Africa as a partner, said Machel.

    The African Union, a coalition of governments, was modeled after the United Nations, she explained. “There is a very clear and comprehensive agenda on how to govern and solve conflicts.”

    Mozambique, a country of 18 million people bordered by Zimbabwe and South Africa, is 19 times the size of Denmark. 70% of its population lives in the urban areas: Beira, Nampula and the capital city Maputo are its largest cities, and Portuguese is the official language. In the 1960s, Black Mozambicans began their quest for freedom and independence. Machel overcame an early life of poverty and oppression under colonialism. She was the only Black female who attended her secondary school, and she endured daily ridicule from both teachers and classmates. She would later graduate with honors from college. "It is terrible for a child to be reminded of her poverty," she recalled. "These things have marked me very much."

    She joined her country's struggle for freedom while in college – she and fellow Black college students at the time joined campus religious groups, "which was to cover our political discussions," Michel disclosed. When Mozambique won its independence in 1975, Michel said, "We were the first revolutionary movement to come to power in Southern Africa." She was named the country's first educational minister (1975-1989). Under her leadership, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary school rose from 40% to over 90% for males, and 75% for females.

    She also married Samora Machel, who led Mozambique's fight for freedom and became its first president. He died in a plane crash in 1986. "He was a good leader and had a vision," Machel said of her late husband. After she left the government, Machel became an internationally acclaimed advocate for children. In 1994, The United Nations asked her to write The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children and present it to the entire body. "One of the worst abuses of children is to get them to become child soldiers," she said. "War violates absolutely every single right of a child."

    Machel and her second husband, Nelson Mandela, are two of the most influential persons for children's rights worldwide. Although married, the two live separately – Machel in Mozambique and Mandela in South Africa. "We have many things in common, with children being one of them," she said. Michel addressed several topics as she took audience questions. She criticized the American media's coverage of Africa, which reports nothing but bad news." Africa is comprised of 53 countries – that story is never told."

    How do Africans view American-born Blacks? "African-Americans are descendants of Africans," said Machel. "We have considered them very far, but very close to us.

    "On the genocide in Rwanda, Machel said, "Without the United Nations, it would have been much worse."

    How can the average American help Southern Africa? "First of all," Machel responded, "I suggest to keep yourselves informed on what is going on in Africa. Secondly, you must educate more Americans on what is going on. There is too much ignorance on what is happening in Africa. She also suggested that U.S. colleges and universities create exchange programs for both students and educators.

    Despite her many accolades, Machel remains humble. When asked who her role models were, she pointed out, "There are millions of anonymous role models in every corner of Mozambique. They don't have a famous face, but they keep our nation going. They make a difference to millions of children and young people; they are my role models," she said.

    Finally, Machel said that if Mozambique were to improve its current conditions – it is considered among the world’s poorest countries, with an average income of $90 per capita – it would be her country’s young people who will lead. “It is up to the young people of my country to dare the dream,” she said. “There is no limit to the imagination of what they can achieve.”

    Her dream? “Make poverty history,” she concluded.