In his weekly letter to South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on his countrymen to emerge from the coronavirus crisis with a better and fairer society where no one is hungry.
“Poverty and inequality continue to stalk our land. The circumstances of one’s birth still largely determines where and how we live, where we study, where we work and where we are cared for when we are sick. The coronavirus pandemic forces us to confront this reality,” he said.
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Dear Fellow South African,
Twenty-six years ago, a new nation was born in Africa.
On the 27th of April 1994 this country’s men, women and children emerged from the dark vale of oppression to stand in the light of freedom.
As millions cast their votes for the first time, they boldly declared to the world that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
The price of our freedom was paid by generations of patriots, and we pay tribute to the great leaders who resisted colonial domination and who fought for our liberation, both those who have left us and those who are still living.
We also honour the contribution of the many compatriots whose names are unknown but whose sacrifices were just as great.
Over the past 26 years we have made great progress in building a common future in which all South Africans have a part.
Our lodestar is our Constitution that is the defender of all who live in our great land, be they black or white, rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, citizen or resident.
We have been building homes, schools, hospitals, clinics and universities.
We have been providing water, sanitation and electricity to millions of people who never had access to such services.
We have expanded access to health care and education.
We have been hard at work to rebuild our economy and strengthen our institutions.
We have initiated work, internship and study opportunities for young people, assisting them to secure jobs or to be self-employed.
We have accelerated programmes to give our people access to land, and returned land to those who were forcibly removed.
We are supporting vulnerable families, parents, the elderly, persons with disabilities and our veterans with social grants.
Our young democracy has much to be proud of.
But poverty and inequality continue to stalk our land. The circumstances of one’s birth still largely determines where and how we live, where we study, where we work and where we are cared for when we are sick. The coronavirus pandemic forces us to confront this reality.
Though we are certainly all braving the same tide, we have not been impacted in the same way.
The social relief measures announced last week that are now being implemented are therefore as much about narrowing the gulf of inequality as they are about supporting vulnerable citizens through this trying time.
The triumph of 1994 was about much more than being able to vote.
It was about leveling the field for the black child and the white child, and making sure they each have an equal chance in life.
The promise we made on the 27th of April 1994 can no longer be deferred.
We must make real the right of all our people to health care, food, shelter, water, social security and land.
For as long as this is delayed, in the words of Jonas Gwangwa’s famous song: “freedom for some is freedom for none.”
The true lessons of this experience will be about whether we have been able to turn this crisis into an opportunity to invest in a new society, a new consciousness and a new economy.
In the South Africa that we all want, no man, woman or child will go hungry, because they will have the means to earn an income, and our social assistance programmes will be matched by efforts to enable communities to grow their own food.
In this new society, the provision of services to our people is the foremost priority of government.
The public servant understands that they are just that: a servant of the people, and that they should put the interests of the people ahead of their own.
Before this pandemic we were deepening our efforts to address poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and a weak economy. We will now be set back by many years, and our recovery will take a great deal of effort and resources.
Even as we turn the tide on the coronavirus pandemic, we will still have to confront a contracting economy, unemployment, crime and corruption, a weakened state and other pressing concerns.
We will have to find new, exceptional and innovative ways to overcome them.
This is not something government can do alone.
The collaborative spirit with which government, business, labour and civil society formations have worked to drive the national effort to combat the coronavirus is yet another affirmation of just how far we have come.
Robust engagement, strong institutions, social compacting and consensus-building are all the fruits of the national democratic project that began in 1994.
This pandemic has reminded us that our interdependence is key to our very survival as a people.
Respect for the rights of others is the beating heart of freedom.
Violating the coronavirus response provisions and exposing others to a potentially fatal illness is the worst form of disrespect for others.
This Freedom Day let us stand firm and united against this disease, but also against poverty, inequality and hunger.
Let the good that has come from this experience – of collective action, of unity of purpose and generosity of spirit, continue.
Let us use this crisis to reaffirm our resolve to fundamentally change our society, and to emerge as a better and more equal country.