South Africans have for the first time since the advent of democracy marked Freedom Day under lockdown to curb the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The country commemorates 27 April 1994 as the historic occasion in 1994 when all citizens were allowed to cast their vote and usher in their first democratic elections. But with South Africans confined to their homes in a bid to curb COVID-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa, through a virtual broadcast, delivered the Freedom Day address under the 2020 Freedom Day theme - “Solidarity and triumph of the human spirit in challenging times”.
The President’s address called on citizens to reflect on not only their hard-won freedoms, some of which have been restricted under lockdown but also on the lessons presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The true lessons of this experience will not just be about the necessity of social distancing, proper handwashing and infection control. They will also be about whether we have the ability to turn this crisis into an opportunity to invest in a new society, a new consciousness and a new economy.
“In this new society, the privileged cannot afford to close their eyes to the plight of the poor and sleep peacefully at night. This is the time when we should actively work to build a fair and just country,” said the President.
Before this pandemic arrived on South Africa’s shores, the government was at work to address poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and a weak economy but the pandemic could set these efforts back by many years.
The pandemic and by extension the imposed lockdown forced the country to confront the great inequalities that continue to characterise the country 26 years after the attainment of freedom.
“Though we are certainly all braving the same tide, we have not been impacted in the same way by this pandemic. Some people have been able to endure the Coronavirus lockdown in a comfortable home with a fully stocked fridge, with private medical care and online learning for their children.
“For millions of others, this has been a month of misery, of breadwinners not working, of families struggling to survive and of children going to bed and waking up hungry,” said the President.
The President described this as the greatest form of injustice and a “stain on our national conscience”.
In this regard, the President said the promise 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,” said the President.
In this final decade of the National Development Plan, President Ramaphosa called on citizens to change the pace of social and economic transformation.
“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 the government can do alone,” said the President.
While government alone cannot rebuild the economy and the country, the President said recovery can be achieved through collaboration business, labour and civil society.
But with the country still consumed with containing the virus, the President called on South Africans to respect each other’s rights and adhere to the lockdown regulations.
“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,” he said.
President Ramaphosa called on South Africans to unite against the pandemic and use the crisis to reaffirm the resolve to fundamentally change society.
“Let us emerge from the coronavirus pandemic a better country, a more equal country. This year, we are celebrating Freedom Day apart, each of us confined to our homes.
“Next year – through your determination, through your courage and through your actions – we will once again celebrate Freedom Day together,” said the President.