CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South Africans must live up to Nelson Mandela's legacy by promoting human rights and democracy among their neighbors and around the world, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Clinton challenged students at the University of the Western Cape to look beyond their borders and spread the ideals espoused by Mandela. South Africa's first black president spent 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Clinton visited the 94-year-old Mandela, who's affectionately known as "Madiba," at his home on Monday.
"The man who did so much to shape the history of a free South Africa has never stopped thinking about the future of South Africa," she said. "You, the young generation, are called not just to preserve the legacy of liberty that has been left to you by Madiba and by other courageous men and woman."
"You are called to build on that legacy to ensure that your country fulfills its own promise and takes its place as a leader among nations and as a force for peace, opportunity, equality and democracy, and to stand up always for human rights at home and around the world," Clinton said. "Your values don't stop at your borders."
South Africa sometimes has frustrated the United States at the United Nations and other international venues for not always supporting efforts to punish authoritarian governments for rights abuses.
Currently an elected member of the U.N. Security Council, South Africa abstained last month from a resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria. The resolution failed because of a double veto from permanent members Russia and China but South Africa's abstention vexed American policymakers.
Clinton acknowledged that the U.S. and South Africa don't see "eye to eye" on some issues, particularly related to security, and she cited differences over Ivory Coast and Libya. But, she praised the country for voting in favor of a U.N. General Assembly motion condemning the violence in Syria and said she was hopeful that was a sign South Africa was beginning to shift course.
"I hope this vote can be the foundation for a new level of cooperation on one of the more urgent questions of our time," she said.
Clinton compared South Africa and the United States, saying that as democracies that embrace the rights of all citizens, they must assume global leadership roles.
"South Africa has an obligation to be a constructive force in the international community, just as the United States does," Clinton said. "The world needs you to contribute much because you have already accomplished much."
She urged South Africans to use their own experience with political transition to support and encourage emerging democracies in the Middle East as well as closer to home in Africa in places such as South Sudan, the world's newest nation.
She received a standing ovation from the polite crowd in the packed auditorium. Outside, though, a small group of students protested her appearance, chanting and carrying signs that said "Hands Off Africa."
Earlier Wednesday, Clinton presided over the signing of an agreement with South African health officials that will put them in the lead in administering the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in the country.
The program has spent $3.2 billion on anti-retroviral drugs, other treatments and HIV prevention programs in South Africa since President George W. Bush started it in 2004. The handover will be phased in over five years.
South Africa has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, with 5.7 million people, or 17.8 percent of the population, testing positive for the virus.