Remembering Nelson Mandela when he said – No water no peace

Picture: Thys Dullaart/ANA Archives

The late Former First President of a Democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela said water sector has made good progress in co-operation towards that objective. “We are here together under one roof, the biggest free-standing structure in Africa, promoting stakeholder dialogue and co-operation,” Mandela added.

Noting further ne said nobody expects us to be in agreement on all policies; nobody is forced to do anything they do not want to; but we all realise that we are working in our own different ways towards achieving a common goal. That is what we are presenting collectively to the world during the Summit here in Johannesburg.

This was an Address by Nelson Mandela made at the opening of the Waterdome during World Summit on Sustainable Development on 28 August 2002.

Stressing the importance of water accessibility, Mandela noted that “when I return, as I often do, to the rural village and area of my childhood and youth, the poverty of the people and the devastation of the natural environment painfully strike me. And in that impoverishment of the natural environment, it is the absence of access to clean water that strikes most starkly. That our government has made significant progress in bringing potable water nearer to so many more people than was previously the case, I rate amongst the most important achievements of democracy in our country.”

Among the many things he learnt, as a president of our country, was the centrality of water in the social, political and economic affairs of the country, continent and indeed the world. I am, therefore, a totally committed “water person.”

As the country and the world-over celebrates the Global Nelson Mandela Day – his birthday is on July 18 –  and with July month be declared a Nelson Mandela Month,  we should all be water friends by cleaning our rivers to steer and protect them from being polluted.

And, as Mandela, pointed out to his family of international governments and people on that day, it is together with my two “water friends”, His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange and His Excellency Ambassador Salim Ahmed Salim, that I stand here in front of you for the opening of the WaterDome. It gives me great pleasure to share this platform and perform this ceremonial function with them.

This official act of opening the WaterDome will be done by the three of us together, symbolising the co-operation we need to put water higher on the political and social agenda. And I want to call on all of you here to help make water a lead sector of co-operation for development in the world.

The WaterDome itself is a symbol for co-operation in the water sector. Over 70 organisations from the public as well as the private sector are present here. They are here to demonstrate how we are working together to make access to water a basic right for all human beings.

At the time, he noted that “My young friend here, His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, is doing excellent work to keep the focus on water – amongst others as chair of the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague two years ago and with his excellent paper ‘No Water No Future’, prepared for also the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan.”

Africa is fortunate that it can count on people like Ambassador Salim Ahmed Salim to put water in an African perspective.

Mandela added that “It is thanks to people like you that we are united to make the World Water Vision come true. We must applaud the initiative of the African Water Task Force to organise the WaterDome. It is a sign of real leadership.  In just 6 months you have ensured that water has been placed firmly on the world agenda here in Johannesburg. And I am confident that you will not let it rest here. You must ensure that at the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto next year the commitments made here in Johannesburg are monitored and followed up.”

He then invited “my two colleagues to join me to press this button and in doing so formally open the WaterDome. I wish you all well and hope for a successful week here in Johannesburg at the WaterDome. I thank you,” He concluded.

It should be remembered that during the month of July annually, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) embarks on the Clear Rivers Campaign- a campaign dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

This campaign calls on everyone to dedicate their 67 minutes of goodwill activities towards cleaning up rivers, streams, wetlands, dams, canals and any freshwater source. Everyone is encouraged to participate in cleaning up our water ecosystems, on any day during Mandela Month.


Ike Motsapi is a  Principal Communications Officer for the Department of Water and Sanitation.