GEORGE, South Africa – Nelson Mandela joined movie and music stars on Saturday at an international concert to raise funds for women in South Africa suffering from HIV /AIDS.
Film star Will Smith was master of ceremonies, and Annie Lennox and Queen were among those entertaining more than 15,000 fans sprawled across the lawns of the exclusive Fancourt golf estate near George, about 250 miles from Cape Town.
Mandela, 86, was given a thunderous reception when he joined the crowd – many of them youths brought in from a nearby township – at the concert, named 46664 after Mandela’s prison number during his 27 years in apartheid-era jails.
“I would love to enjoy the peace and quiet of retirement, but I know that like many of you, I cannot rest easily while our beloved continent is ravaged by a deadly epidemic,” said Mandela, who has retired from public life but launched the 46664 drive to raise funds for live-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs.
HIV/AIDS activists praised Mandela when he announced in January that his only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, had died of an AIDS-related illness, aged 54. The announcement was seen as a major boost for efforts to end the stigma attached to AIDS.
AIDS has hit South Africa harder than any other country, and an estimated five million of the country’s 45 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Nobel peace prize laureate Mandela said the concert was dedicated to the women of Africa. “As daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers, every day they experience and live out the reality of this epidemic,” he said.
The concert was beamed live on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Africa channel and is the second such event after a star-studded extravaganza in Cape Town in November 2003.