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Friday, December 10, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visit Nets $30 Million For Charity -- Mandela, Machel End Three- Day Stay In Seattle

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, wound up a three-day visit to Seattle this morning, taking home with them gifts of more than $30 million, much of it home-grown in Seattle's high-tech industries, to be used to fight disease, poverty and illiteracy in Africa.

Shortly before the couple departed, the Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates charitable foundations announced gifts totaling $17.5 million for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and $12.5 million for Machel's Foundation for Community Development.

Mandela and Machel are to meet with President Clinton in Orlando tomorrow before continuing home to Johannesburg.

Mandela and Machel came to Seattle to raise money for their foundations and build connections with health-care experts and high-tech companies. Their visit was sponsored by Craig McCaw, founder of Teledesic, and his wife, Susan; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the Russell Family Foundation.

While raising money for their foundations was one of the main purposes of their first-ever visit to Seattle, Mandela and Machel also spent time discussing issues at various events, including yesterday's global-health forum at the University of Washington and student convocation at Seattle University. At Seattle U, they received honorary degrees from Seattle U and Seattle Central Community College and answered prepared questions from students.

Mandela on wealth, power

Mandela yesterday frankly discussed his position on United States foreign policy, the marginalization of the developing world and the merits of the World Trade Organization.

When O'Dea High School Senior Regi Vengalil asked Mandela for his views on the WTO, Mandela said the WTO is a part of a welcome process of globalization that no country should avoid. The WTO, he said, "is an organization we all must support because it has many advantages."

But he said the WTO, under its current rules, favors the powerful.

"Power today is still monopolized by the West, and their moral fiber leaves a lot to be desired," he said. "They use the World Trade Organization in order to make a maximum profit, not for humanity, but for the ruling classes in their respective countries."

When asked by Seattle University student Peter Koski if U.S. investment in South Africa would affect its relationships with Cuba, Libya and Iran, Mandela reacted strongly, saying South Africa has a right to sovereignty that "no force whatsoever in the universe" can interfere with.

"The enemies of the United States are not our enemies. Apart from the (anti-) apartheid movement and from certain far-seeing, broad-minded Americans, the government of the United States supported our oppressors, the apartheid regime," he said. "Cuba, Libya and Iran gave us enormous support. It would be a tragedy if . . . now that we are free, we are going to be advised by the friend of our enemy to break all relations with those who helped us when we were alone."

Mandela and Machel focused much of their public time on issues of health and poverty in Africa. At Seattle U., Machel spoke in favor of the Roman Catholic Church's call to banks to forgive Third World debts, in celebration of the 2,000th year of Christianity.

AIDS vaccine a shared goal

Earlier yesterday, Mandela appeared with Gates at a forum on global health at the UW's Health Sciences Center.

There they were on the stage together - Gates, the world's richest man, alongside Mandela, considered by many to be the world's most moral man, a man who spent 27 years in a South African prison and came out wanting to help others.

Now, Gates wants to use his money to help others, and Mandela is happy to help him do that.

So many times, people who are gifted use their gifts only to help themselves, or for the wrong causes, such as inventing instruments of war, said Machel, introducing Gates.

"What makes you special?" she asked Gates rhetorically. "It's not only because you are giving away money. Probably that is the easiest part." What is more important, she said, is to enable other people to help themselves, to "move on their own feet, to get knowledge and to use knowledge to be more human. That's what makes you a special philanthropist."

Gates - preceded by Dr. Seth Berkley, head of an initiative to find a vaccine for AIDS, and by Dr. Bill Foege, global-health adviser for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - told the crowd he thinks global health care must be the priority. Gates has been pumping money - $2.5 billion since 1998 - into that effort. He and his wife have endowed their foundation with $17 billion to improve access to health-care advances and to education.

Not surprisingly, Gates, the ultimate entrepreneur, plans to harness and apply a touch of the whip to the private sector. He is funding research for an AIDS vaccine through the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which as part of its contracts with researchers secures the rights to produce the vaccine for developing countries at low cost.

The development and distribution of vaccines, especially for children, is a focus for Gates.

"We need new pricing strategies," Gates said. "We've got to allow poor countries to have access to this technology at very, very low prices. And yet, we've got to be careful how we do that. Because we want to continue to have the incentives for companies to invest very heavily in the research."

For his part, Mandela made it clear that he supported wresting control of vaccine and drug prices from pharmaceutical companies.

In developing countries such as his, he said, foreign companies double and triple the price of drugs. "In other words, they exploit the poorest of the poor to make huge profits."

But the deepest problem in society today, and in Africa, said Mandela, is poverty.

Yet out of tragedies and difficulties come the "leaders of society," such as Gates, Mandela said. "You are very lucky to have people like Bill in your country."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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