frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela

Bill Clinton

He started the Clinton Foundation after leaving the White House in 2000. Its HIV/AIDS initiative has helped reduce the cost of antiretroviral drugs and improve prevention and treatment in many countries. This is an excerpt from the edited transcript of an extended interview conducted on April 26, 2005 and published on FRONTLINE's The Age of AIDS site.

You mentioned Africa. Let me ask you about Nelson Mandela and your conversations with him about HIV.

justice edwin cameronWell, you know he's a very good friend of mine and we've done a lot of work on this together. I think he felt when he got out of the Presidency that he had brought genuine multi-racial democracy and freedom to South Africa. He'd given it a modern political state. And that everything he had done was now threatened by the enormity of AIDS problem. -- five million people with AIDS in the country, or with HIV.

I think he wanted to personally do something about it for the rest of his life, and he has. He's even written personal checks to support people with HIV. And, of course, we know he lost his son to the epidemic, so for him it's immediate, it's personal, it's a source of great grief, and, I think, a source of profound regret that after struggling so long to make South Africa free that it is not free of this epidemic.

What do you think what going on during his presidency?

I don't know. I think that in a lot of these places there was just a lot of denial. And then in some of these countries there was a swarm, too -- the epidemic grew in a hurry. …

I think that a lot of times political leaders and their administrations and their bureaucracies, [when] they get in, they have, I hesitate to say blinders, but we all are like that, "OK I got elected to do this and this is what I'm going to do".

And all of a sudden the job gets redefined by something else. So I think all countries were a little slow to turn around. But he certainly has done everything he could, and, even when he was President, he was never particularly in denial about it, there just wasn't much he thought he could do about it. And then when he got out, as a free citizen, he focused all his attention on it. When you're in office you have to think about a lot of different things.

I think he's done great and it's amazing to me, as old as he is, he just keeps plugging away trying to do something.

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