Graca Machel Interview: More hopeful than ever for Africa
By Shabtai Gold Mar 29, 2010, 19:07 GMT
Former South African president Nelson Mandela (L) and wife Graca Machel (R) in parliament Cape Town, South Africa 11 February 2010. EPA/SCHALK VAN ZUYDAM / POOL
The Hague - With a name very much becoming her demeanour, Graca Machel is both the tough and dignified woman of Africa, with a constant look to a more optimistic future - even as those casting doubts seem to dominate the headlines.
'Africa is emerging, it is really emerging,' the international women's and children's right advocate and wife of apartheid-era icon Nelson Mandela said recently, a twinkle in her eye.
'Today, you have much more democracy in Africa than before. And even conflicts - once upon a time, you had many red spots on the continent. Now you can count them on the five fingers of my hand,' Machel told the German Press Agency dpa in an interview.
'But more important, Africans themselves are tackling the conflicts,' she said. 'We are Africans. We have a destiny. We have to shape our own destiny on our own.'
'It is true we still have challenges, but out of 53 countries, when you have five in crisis, remember the more than 40 [that] are growing,' she exclaimed.
The former first lady of her native Mozambique - until her then husband, Samora Machel, was killed in a plane crash - Machel now splits her time to spend part of the year in South Africa with Mandela.
She also still trots the globe, carrying out her own work as a humanitarian and political activist. Most recently, she joined The Elders, an independent group of global leaders that includes Mandela, South African religious leader Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter.
Her work for children's rights, particularly for refugees, led the United Nations secretary general to appoint her in 1994 to head a team study on children in armed conflict.
The startling report, published in 1996 with the simple picture of a child behind barbed wire adorning the cover, changed the way humanitarian aid agencies acted in wars.
Education became a right for even those displaced by violence and, following the report's recommendations, children were given special care and protection during wars.
'In all modesty, our study helped change the way the UN dealt with children in conflict,' Machel said, pointing out that blue-helmet peacekeepers are only now being trained to guard youngsters.
At the national level, however, she admits to some failures, particularly when it comes to making sure kids do not end up carrying guns as part of militias.
'Both state and non-state actors continue to recruit children. In this we did not make an impact,' Machel bluntly declared.
She also singled out the Ivory Coast and Sri Lanka as places where war had disproportionate negative consequences on children.
Born in rural Mozambique, Machel takes pride in her more recent work, which helps bring vaccines and other medicines to poor countries. In the most challenging cases, organizations she assists distribute the drugs through clever methods in the remote countryside.
For her, whether building a new school, deploying a doctor to the farmlands or drawing up rules for children in wars, it all boils down to the same fundamental principle.
'It's the same child. When I say this child has a right to live and not to die, I am saying this child has a right to peace. He doesn't have to be brutalized either as perpetrator or even passive victim of war,' she said.
Children going without basic medicines and suffering is a 'waste of human lives which can be prevented with comparably very little investment,' she said.
Reluctant to talk about her personal life - though her dynamic personality has drawn her to some of Africa's most respected leaders - she does smile at the mention of Mandela's legacy.
However, she puts her hopes in the yet unknown leaders who will emerge from the continent to rectify the damage caused by what she sees as the 'Balkanization of colonization' or the overall breakdown of societies, leading to bloodshed and economic dissonance.
'I do acknowledge that we have challenges, but I also acknowledge there is something coming, very deep and very broad,' she said, ever the optimist, her tone and conviction suggesting that there is no other alternative than her bright prophecy.
In several decades, she quite simply expects people to have a completely new perception of the African continent.
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