Press Releases

Press Releases

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 10 AUGUST 2020

 

Dear Fellow South African,

Yesterday, the country celebrated Women’s Day. This occasion marks the anniversary of the day in 1956 when 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings – a great sea of womankind speaking many languages, from different places and of all races. They were united in their demand for an end to the dreaded pass laws and for their right to live in freedom.
 
The status and position of women in South Africa today is vastly different to that faced by our mothers and grandmothers in 1956. We have come a long way in realising a South Africa that is non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, prosperous and free.

There has been real progress in improving the lives of South African women in the economy, in the political sphere and in public life.

At the same time, we know there is so much further we still have to go. Women still face discrimination, harassment and violence, and bear the greatest brunt of poverty.

If we are to truly realise the promise of our Constitution we have to tackle the economic and financial exclusion that makes women more vulnerable to abuse and violence.

We have joined a ground-breaking campaign that links us to global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030. Generation Equality is an ambitious and transformative agenda to end discrimination and violence against women and for their equal participation in political, social and economic life.

As part of this campaign, we have joined two ‘Action Coalitions’, one for economic justice and rights and another against gender-based violence. Both of these themes are critical to our own national agenda.

Eleven months since the Emergency Response Action Plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide was implemented we have made progress in expanding support and care to survivors, and progress is being made in legal reforms to afford them greater protection.
 
This month we begin the implementation of the National Strategic Plan to combat gender-based violence and femicide. A key aspect of the plan is on ensuring greater women’s financial inclusion. This is because economic inequality and social inequality are interconnected. The economic status of women in South Africa makes them more vulnerable to abuse. We must therefore scale up up support for women to enable them to become financially independent.

We have made a number of commitments under Generation Equality that will be given effect to through the National Strategic Plan.

Firstly, we are going to drive women’s economic inclusion through public procurement. We have set the target of ensuring that at least 40% of goods and services procured by public entities are sourced from women-owned businesses.

Secondly, we are going to scale up support for women-owned SMMEs and for women who work in the informal sector or are unemployed. This will include engagement with the financial sector to make financial services accessible and affordable for women.

Thirdly, we want to ensure more women have access to productive assets such as land. It is essential that women are beneficiaries of the accelerate land reform programme. It is significant that of the R75 million in COVID-19 relief earmarked for farming input vouchers 53% of the beneficiaries will be rural women. We must ensure that women subsistence and small-scale farmers continue to receive support beyond the pandemic.

Fourthly, we want to ensure that women are protected from gender-based violence in the workplace. In this regard, we will be working at a national and regional level towards the ratification of the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment in the Workplace.

It is said that freedom is not given, but taken.

The emancipation of women is only words on paper unless it is matched by commitment from all sectors of society.

As we prepare for the reconstruction of our economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we have said that we cannot simply return to where we were before the outbreak of the virus. We must build a fundamentally different economy which, among other things, substantially improves the material position of women.

This means that our investment in infrastructure must support not only the development of local industry, but also women-owned businesses. It must deliberately create employment opportunities for women in all stages of planning, financing, building and maintaining infrastructure. By the same measures, as we scale up our public employment programmes, we must ensure that young women in particular are identified as participants. In addition to an income, these programmes will provide them with an opportunity to acquire some of the skills and experience necessary to enter the mainstream economy.

As much as it is government’s responsibility to provide economic opportunities for women and create an enabling framework for advancing gender equality, everyone in society needs to play their part.

Businesses must support women-owned enterprises in the procurement of goods and services. They should employ more women and appoint more women to management positions.
 
This is all the more important considering that the private sector’s record on gender-representation at management level lags behind that of the public sector. This is an issue that is repeatedly raised in engagements I have had with a number of women’s business organisations. By equal measure, we must eliminate gender disparities in pay for men and women, and give effect to the principle of equal pay for equal work contained in the Employment Equity Act.

Women must also be protected from harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It is up to transport operators, university administrators, school governing bodies and religious organisations to create conditions for women and girls to travel, study and worship in safety.

We must forge ahead with our efforts to eradicate chauvinism, sexism and patriarchy. It is these attitudes that enable the oppression of women.

It is up to us – both men and women – to affirm that a woman’s value, position and opinions are no less than that of a man. It is up to us as parents and grandparents to treat and raise our sons and our daughters the same.

It is up to us as men to reject and speak out against gender-based violence wherever we see it, even if it is against our friends, fathers or brothers.

Let us be the generation that ends the oppression of women in all its forms, in our lifetime. The brave generation of 1956 marched for us all. We owe it to them, to ourselves and to future generations to not betray this noble legacy.

With best wishes,

DONATION TO FOOD BANK TO COMMEMORATE NELSON MANDELA DAY

In commemoration of International Nelson Mandela Day celebrated on 18 July 2020, the Embassy gathered private donations for Portugal's Banco Alimentar food bank. The donations were handed over by Ambassador Gaoretelelwe, who was kindly greeted by the President of the Banco Alimentar, Ms Isabel Jonet. Thank you to everyone who donated and a very big thank you to the food bank for its wonderful work!

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 27 JULY 2020

Dear Fellow South African,

As several parts of our country experience a surge in coronavirus infections, we are also confronted with the economic damage of this pandemic.

The most recent economic indicators show a drastic decline in economic activity and in confidence. Despite the support measures we have put in place, businesses are being forced to close and jobs are being lost.

The path to recovery will be long and difficult. And so, it needs to start now.

Despite the economic challenges we face, we must continue to work towards the achievement of economic dignity for all South Africans. This is not the time to despair but to act. It is untenable, and unacceptable, to live with an unemployment rate of 30 percent, which will soon increase. It is also impossible to build an economy built on inequality.

It is often said that South Africans do not lack for ideas. We have seen the publication of various economic recovery proposals recently, including by the governing party, organised business, civil society and independent analysts.

I am encouraged by the significant areas of agreement in these proposals. In the State of the Nation Address in February, I said that there were three things we would focus on this year. First, we were going to fix the fundamentals. Second, we would pursue new sources of growth. Third, we would ensure that our actions are underpinned by a capable state.

Many of the plans under discussion raise these fundamentals, such as reliable energy, access to broadband spectrum, competitive ports and efficient transport. Working with our social partners we must speed up the pace of implementation so that we can rebuild the base of our economy.

In all the proposals put forward in recent weeks, there is a substantial emphasis on improving execution. They all say that we should seek out pockets of excellence in the state and support and deepen them. But they also say that we must look outside the state. We need to bring together the best available local skills, whether in business, academia or civil society to support our common programme.

There is a strong commitment to a social compact – and the institutions necessary to support it – so that the reconstruction of our economy can be a shared responsibility and a shared undertaking.

With the advent of the coronavirus, we now need to pursue new sources of growth within a fundamentally different context. Many of the areas we had identified before remain relevant and urgent, such as a growing small and medium enterprise sector and an agricultural sector that delivers food security. Some sectors have taken on a new significance. We should, for example, use this opportunity to build a greener economy, with our entrepreneurs entering new fields such as hybrid cars, fuel cells, battery storage and waste beneficiation. This element has come out quite clearly in the various plans that have been released.

In the year of our chairship of the African Union, we were planning vigorously for the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which has been delayed by the pandemic. All social partners see the value of expanding trade in an integrated Africa, with concrete proposals on how to overcome the barriers that impede the ability of Africans to trade with one another. Our strategies to promote local production, which is a common theme across the various recovery plans, should support efforts to create regional value chains on the continent.

When we launched the economic stimulus and recovery plan nearly two years ago, we announced the establishment of an Infrastructure Fund that could blend different forms of finance to drive infrastructure development. This we identified as the flywheel of economic growth. There is now general consensus that our recovery should be led by infrastructure development and maintenance. At the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium organised by the Presidency a few weeks ago, business and government were of one mind on a new methodology to develop an infrastructure pipeline and deliver on it. Investors from the multilateral development banks, development finance institutions and the private sector all showed a strong appetite to make the necessary investments to meet South Africa’s extensive and diverse infrastructure needs.

In the coming weeks, we will work with our social partners to finalise an economic recovery programme that brings together the best of all the various proposals. The most important part of that programme must be the protection and the creation of jobs.

Analysts have estimated that this pandemic will cost the country millions of jobs. In the supplementary budget presented last month, government made provision for job preservation and job creation efforts. The job preservation efforts, such as those through the UIF and tax measures, aim to prevent job losses in the private sector.

However, if we are going to recover from the worst effects of the pandemic, we also need well-crafted public employment schemes. Creating jobs for people that add value to their communities through maintenance, care work and other services, keeps people engaged in productive activity. It helps them to retain and to develop skills. It gives many young people a chance to climb the first rung in the job market ladder. Such jobs complement employment created by businesses as they start to recover and private investment returns.

As the recovery takes hold and the world gradually adjusts to a global economy marked by COVID-19, we expect economic activity to pick up. By then, our initiatives to reform and improve the business environment will establish a firm platform for industries with high potential to flourish.

Since the onset of the pandemic in South Africa, our strategy has been to provide whatever support we can, within our constrained resources, to protect businesses and preserve jobs. Now we must move quickly towards a robust programme of reconstruction and recovery – and we must do so together.

Building on the vast areas of common ground among the proposals from social partners, we now have to put in place a clear, focused and ambitious set of measures to not only restore our economy, but to set it on a new path of inclusive and sustainable growth.

We are faced with a health, social and economic crisis of massive proportions. But we are not daunted, nor discouraged.

We will do what we must to build an economy that is resilient and dynamic, that creates work and opportunity, and that meets the needs of all our people.

We have all the ingredients for an economic recovery. Now let us work together to make it happen.
 
With best wishes,

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 20 JULY 2020

Dear Fellow South African,

The old saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ comes to mind when I think about the resilience and ingenuity shown by South Africans during the past three months.

This ingenuity is being demonstrated by young entrepreneurs as our country is battling the spread of the coronavirus that has brought about fundamental changes to our way of life and doing business.

 As a number of social partners, including government, business, trade unions, community based organisations, economists and political parties, are involved in crafting a new vision for a post-COVID-19 dispensation, a new breed of young entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunities that are opening up as we seek to deal with a new normal in our lives.

The coronavirus is a dark cloud that is hanging over the lives of South Africans and the economic fortunes of our country. South Africa is not alone. Many countries are experiencing harsh economic challenges. Like many countries, we have responded through an economic and social assistance package, worth R500 billion. But we also know that we need to evolve a clear vision and strategic plan that will help us chart our way beyond the impact of COVID-19.
 
This vision and strategic plan will of necessity have to be a durable and effective social compact among social partners.

As much as COVID-19 hangs over our country, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. As much as we have to face enormous difficulties and challenges, such as rising unemployment and poverty, there are a number of opportunities that we need to look out for to undo the harsh consequences of coronavirus.

There are a number of South Africans who are searching for the silver lining.

I am very pleased at the combination of foresight, creativity and business acumen displayed by a number of young South Africans who are coming up with home-grown solutions to the contemporary challenges we face.

Some have started small business ventures because of personal circumstances, like losing their jobs. Others who were previously unemployed have seized the opportunity provided by the pandemic to create their own income.

The story of Cloudy Deliveries in Langa, Cape Town, is testimony to the power of a good idea. A group of youth run a bicycle delivery service ferrying goods from the shops to the homes of residents in the township. During the lockdown, they have focused their operations on doing shopping for the elderly who have been encouraged to remain at home. They earn an income and at the same time provide a much-needed service to the community.

Then there is 28-year-old Election Xitsakiso Baloyi from Mankweng in Limpopo, whose pizza-making hobby turned into a fully-fledged business after his family started posting pictures of his creations on social media. With the lockdown preventing people from eating out, he got an avalanche of queries from community members asking if he was selling his pizzas.
 
Now his business, Rabbit’s Pizza, started with his savings of just R1,000 and the baking pans in his kitchen, employs nine other young people and delivers not just in Mankweng but also in nearby Nwamitwa and Giyani. He says he plans to open new outlets in other rural communities in the near future, and to employ more young people in his area who are without work.

To meet the increasing demand for personal protective equipment, a number of small businesses have been established to manufacture masks, visors and face-shields to supply to businesses and communities.

Ponani Shikweni, 32, from Alexandra township in Gauteng has repurposed her linen manufacturing business to produce face masks. She now employs 35 people, most of whom are under 25. She produces more than 1,000 masks a day to order. Her business has already distributed over 20,000 cloth masks for free to residents of Alexandra.

To keep the nation’s spirits up during the lockdown, our country’s young artists and musicians have taken their talents online, resulting in new business opportunities. One such artist is 18-year-old Judy Jay, a DJ and rising star from Sekhukhune. Her watch parties during the lockdown have attracted the attention of major local and international radio stations, enabling her to promote and grow her brand.

The creative and enterprising spirit of these and many more young people that has been brought to the fore during the pandemic must be harnessed and supported.

Even in our darkest hour, we must look to these green shoots of renewal. They are the silver lining to the dark COVID-19 cloud.

Our economic recovery cannot wait until the coronavirus pandemic is over. It needs to start now.
 
One of the defining developments during the lockdown was how businesses in the townships and rural areas came into their own as people were not able to travel around much. In more ways than one, small and medium enterprises in the townships and rural areas have been able to keep our people supplied with the daily necessities. This demonstrates the resilience of small and medium enterprises during a period of great distress in our country. The capacity and ability of these SMMEs shot to the fore.

We have seen in this pandemic how dependent urban areas are on informal food systems, and how important the informal sector is to livelihoods across the country. We have seen the grave inequalities in access to health care, to savings and even to information and connectivity.
 
To enable these businesses to thrive we must tackle the barriers to entrepreneurship.

The concentration of markets and capital in large firms limits the potential of small businesses. Then there is spatial inequality, which concentrates poverty in particular parts of our cities, towns and villages. Entrepreneurs in these areas find it difficult to raise the funds to launch and grow businesses and are often far away from the markets where they can sell their products.

It is not enough simply to urge individuals to take advantage of opportunities or to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among our youth. We need instead to deliberately build township and rural economies.

As part of our effort to build a new economy out of this pandemic, we must create the conditions that will enable every individual to thrive in a society that supports, nurtures and helps them to succeed.

Small businesses present the greatest growth opportunity for our economy and are a major source of job creation. In such challenging times, when many have lost their jobs and the unemployed have found it even harder to eke out an existence, we must act with renewed urgency to support these businesses.

When it comes to the township and rural economy, this means providing access to finance for entrepreneurs and the self-employed. We have made great progress in extending support to 1,000 youth-owned businesses since the State of the Nation Address in February. We will reach this target by International Youth Day on 12 August, despite the delays caused by the lockdown.

It also means expanding access to affordable and high-speed broadband internet, and supporting new technologies – including successful aggregation platforms like SweepSouth or Kandua – which link small businesses to demand.

It means backing areas of opportunity such as in early childhood development, the food economy and the green economy.

During the lockdown, we have extended support to SMMEs in the form of loans, grants and debt restructuring. The COVID-19 UIF Relief Scheme has now disbursed R26 billion to more than 6 million workers across all types of business. The R200 billion loan guarantee scheme is being adjusted to make it easier for applicants to receive funding quickly.

Through the work of the Department of Small Business Development and its agencies, the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and other initiatives, we are placing the township and rural economy at the centre of our reconstruction effort.

Whether it is a vendor selling their wares at a taxi rank, a small internet cafe providing vital services like connectivity and printing, or home industries and mobile wagons selling food, these businesses are a lifeline to both urban and rural communities. They are a means of livelihood for their owners and more often than not employ others from the same community.

Through the Township Entrepreneurship Fund we aim to support township businesses with skills development and access to markets and infrastructure. Although its launch has been delayed by the lockdown, we will put it front and centre as we now begin the arduous task of rebuilding our economy.

International experience has shown that a country that invests in and supports small businesses stimulates economic activity and increases opportunities for self-employment. This is our path to growth.

The many innovative businesses that have been started during this pandemic have showcased the potential of our people and our young people in particular.

It is our duty as government, business and society as a whole to lend our full support to them on their journey towards self-sufficiency and financial sustainability – both to protect the jobs we have and to replace those we have lost.

At the same time, this is a rallying cry to other young people out there to take the great leap of faith into self-employment. The best businesses come from good ideas that respond to a community need.

The experiences of these young people show the importance of not letting a good opportunity go to waste; more so when there is a need for what you have to offer.

I call on young people, especially in townships, to take advantage of the opportunities on offer to guide them along the path towards entrepreneurship.

The conditions may not be ideal. The circumstances may not be perfect. But now is as good a time as ever to start. And you can be assured of our full support.

With best wishes,

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 13 JULY 2020

 

Dear Fellow South African,

Last night, I addressed the nation on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in our country. What follows is an edited version of that address:

Our nation is confronted by the gravest crisis in the history of our democracy. For more than 120 days, we have succeeded in delaying the spread of a virus that is causing devastation across the globe.

But now, the surge in infections that we had been advised by our medical experts would come, has arrived. More than a quarter of a million South Africans have been infected with coronavirus, and we know that many more infections have gone undetected. We are now recording over 12,000 new cases every day.

Since the start of the outbreak in March, at least 4,079 people have died from COVID-19. What should concern us most is that a quarter of those who died passed away in the last week.
 
Like the massive cold fronts that sweep into our country from the South Atlantic at this time of year, there are few parts of the country that will remain untouched by the coronavirus. The coronavirus storm is far fiercer and more destructive than any we have known before. It is stretching our resources and our resolve to their limits.

The surge of infections that our experts and scientists predicted over 3 months ago has now arrived. It started in the Western Cape and is now underway in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
 
Yet, while infections rise exponentially, it is important to note that our case fatality rate of 1.5% is among the lowest in the world. This is compared to a global average case fatality rate of 4.4%. We owe the relatively low number of deaths in our country to the experience and dedication of our health professionals and the urgent measures we have taken to build the capacity of our health system.

Even as most of our people have taken action to prevent the spread of the virus, there are others who have not. There are some among us who ignore the regulations that have been passed to combat the disease.

In the midst of such a pandemic, getting into a taxi without a face mask, gathering to meet friends, attending parties or even visiting family, can too easily spread the virus and cost lives.This may be a disease that is caused by a virus, but it is spread by human conduct and behaviour.
 
Through our own actions – as individuals, as families, as communities – we can and we must change the course of this pandemic in our country. We need to wear a cloth mask that covers our nose and mouth whenever we leave home. We must continue to regularly wash our hands with soap and water or sanitiser. We must continue to clean and sanitise all surfaces in all public spaces. Most importantly, we must keep a safe distance – of at least 2 metres – from other people.

There is now emerging evidence that the virus may also be carried in tiny particles in the air in places that are crowded, closed or have poor air circulation. For this reason we must immediately improve the indoor environment of public places where the risk of infection is greatest.
 
Our decision to declare a nation-wide lockdown prevented a massive early surge of infections when our health services were less prepared, which would have resulted in a far greater loss of lives.

In the time that we had, we have taken important measures to strengthen our health response. We have conducted more than two million coronavirus tests and community health workers have done more than 20 million screenings.

We have made available almost 28,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and have constructed functional field hospitals across the country. We now have over 37,000 quarantine beds in private and public facilities across the country, ready to isolate those who cannot do so at home.

We have procured and delivered millions of items of personal protective equipment to hospitals, clinics and schools across the country to protect our frontline workers. We have recruited and continue to recruit additional nurses, doctors and emergency health personnel.
 
We continue to make progress in our efforts to deal with COVID 19, but our greatest challenge still lies ahead. Across all provinces, we are working to further increase the number of general ward and critical beds available for COVID-19 patients.

Ward capacity is being freed up in a number of hospitals by delaying non-urgent care, the conversion of some areas of hospitals into additional ward space and the erection or expansion of field hospitals.

We are working to increase supplies of oxygen, ventilators and other equipment for those who will need critical care, including by diverting the supply of oxygen from other purposes. We are deploying digital technologies to strengthen the identification, tracing and isolation of contacts, and to provide support to those who test positive.

As we now approach the peak of infections, we need to take extra precautions and tighten existing measures to slow down the rate of transmission.

Regulations on the wearing of masks will be strengthened. Employers, shop owners and managers, public transport operators, and managers and owners of any other public building are now legally obliged to ensure that anyone entering their premises or vehicle must be wearing a mask.

Taxis undertaking local trips will now be permitted to increase their capacity to 100%, while long distance taxis will not be allowed to exceed 70% occupancy, on condition that new risk mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed.
 
There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma. We have therefore decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect.

As an additional measure to reduce the pressure on hospitals, a curfew will be put in place between the hours of 9pm and 4am.

We are taking these measures fully aware that they impose unwelcome restrictions on people’s lives. They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak of the disease.

There is no way that we can avoid the coronavirus storm. But we can limit the damage that it can cause to our lives. As a nation we have come together to support each other, to provide comfort to those who are ill and to promote acceptance of people living with the virus.

Now, more than ever, we are responsible for the lives of those around us.

We will weather this storm. We will restore our country to health and to prosperity. We shall overcome.
 
With best wishes,

FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 6 JULY 2020

 

Dear Fellow South African,

For those fortunate enough to have an elderly parent or grandparent still alive, not being able to spend time with them has been one of the most difficult parts of the lockdown.
 
For millions of senior citizens, social activities like meeting friends and family and attending religious services and stokvel and burial society meetings are the mainstay of their lives.
 
Because of social distancing regulations, most of these activities have been curtailed, potentially leaving them feeling socially isolated and lonely. And leaving their loved ones anxious for their wellbeing.

The reality however is that in keeping our distance from our elderly parents and grandparents at this time we could be saving their lives.

Coronavirus can infect anyone, but older people are among those at highest risk of getting severely ill and possibly dying. Sadly, there have been a number of coronavirus outbreaks at old age homes and care centres, resulting in a number of deaths.

In addition, data released by the Department of Health indicates that people with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, renal disease, asthma and chronic respiratory disease are more vulnerable to developing severe complications and dying from coronavirus.

According to new research published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a third of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 had at least one co-morbidity.

This is a significant concern in a country such as ours that also has high prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis, the leading cause of natural deaths in South Africa last year.

Additionally, more than 4.5 million South Africans have diabetes, a figure that has doubled since 2017. In the Western Cape alone, diabetes is a co-morbidity in over half of all COVID-19 deaths.

In a number of our provinces, including Gauteng and Western Cape, testing is being offered to people with co-morbidities such as diabetes whether they show coronavirus symptoms or not. This smart approach to screening and testing is part of our effort to limit infections among those most vulnerable.

We will continue to be led by scientific evidence and adapt our strategies where necessary.
 
As part of the national effort to contain coronavirus, protecting the general population from becoming infected must be matched by efforts to protect people who are at greater risk.
 
Throughout the nationwide lockdown period, we have taken measures to ensure that those who rely on chronic medication or treatment are able to visit health facilities.

The Department of Social Development has set dietary standards on the food provided to communities during lockdown to ensure they of nutritional value, which is particularly important when managing diabetes. Companies can play their part by keeping basic food prices down, which means that people don’t need to seek out cheap processed foods of poor nutritional value.

Among the many cases being made for the National Health Insurance is that we will be able to mobilise the necessary resources to overcome the burden of these non-communicable diseases and improve the health outcomes of all our people, not just those who can afford to pay.
 
Until we have overcome this pandemic, we all have to play it safe, for ourselves and those around us.

Difficult though it may be, we should not expose our elderly mothers and fathers to the virus through social visits. Let us keep in touch with them by phone or video messaging.

If they live with us, let us ensure we observe proper hygiene at all times by washing and sanitising our hands. Frequently touched surfaces, including equipment used by our parents and grandparents like walkers and canes, should be frequently cleaned.

We should limit our shared spaces where possible and wear a mask when around our elderly relatives. At the same time we must be led by common sense and not isolate elderly or sick relatives at a time when they need us most.

People with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension should be extra cautious. They should observe social distancing, stay home if possible and stay away from crowded places. Like everyone else, they should practice good hygiene and continue to take their medication.

One of the lessons from this pandemic is that we need a holistic approach to health. Anecdotal evidence suggests many of our people have used the lockdown period to make positive lifestyle changes like doing more exercise or quitting smoking. Such developments should be welcomed. If some of us have become healthier during the lockdown, we should continue in this vein.

Reducing the burden of lifestyle-related diseases on our health system is ultimately in the best interests of our health, our economy and our own personal finances.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate is low in South Africa compared to the rest of the world, the rising number of infections is a caution against complacency.

If we follow all the prevention measures we will be able to protect ourselves. We will also, through our everyday actions, protect and keep safe those who are most vulnerable.

Let us remain cautious. Let us remain vigilant. Let us stay safe.

With best wishes,

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FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT - 29 JUNE 2020

Dear Fellow South African,

The number of deaths from coronavirus recently passed the 2,000 mark. Among those who have lost their lives are health care workers, consummate professionals who cared for the ill, and were a support and comfort to those in hospital isolated from their families.

That the men and women carrying out this most noble and sacred of duties are themselves falling ill and dying is a devastating blow.

They are on the frontline of fighting this pandemic. They are working under great pressure and must carry the psychological strain of knowing they are at risk of contracting the virus. They are the true heroes and heroines of our battle against coronavirus.

We salute these brave South Africans who leave their homes, families and loved ones to report without fail for duty every day in clinics, hospitals and other health facilities. There they provide medical care, administrative support and other services like cleaning and catering.
 
Just as they perform what is their professional duty, we too have a duty to them and to their families. Their health and their safety must be paramount.

We honour them and uphold them as the men and women who have demonstrated they are prepared to risk their lives so that we may live.

For them to do their Herculean work they need our support as well as protection through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

With the support of the Solidarity Fund and donations from many individual South Africans, businesses, foundations and other governments, we have been able to procure personal protective equipment for these brave frontline workers. Where there have been shortages of PPE our hospitals are urgently attending to ensuring that they are available.

We know that access to PPE is not the only challenge our health care workers face. Across the country clinics and hospitals are facing staff shortages. This problem is being attended to.
 
To support the work that our frontline workers are performing around the country we are deploying Ministers and Deputy Ministers to each of the districts in the country to get a line of sight of specific challenges in these districts and to work with provincial health authorities.

We need to work together to safeguard the health of not just our frontline workers but the entire workforce.

There has already been sterling work done by unions in educating members around infection control and prevention and hygiene. They are also supporting the work of the Department of Employment and Labour in conducting workplace inspections to ensure health and safety protocols are in place for returning workers. Many of our trade unions are also providing coronavirus information to their members and employers are running awareness campaigns.
 
One of the challenges that has emerged in our country is the stigmatisation of people who have proven positive with coronavirus. As a society, we have a collective responsibility to stamp out the stigmatisation of people infected with the coronavirus. There have been disturbing reports of individuals being ostracised from their communities and of communities protesting against coronavirus patients being admitted to local hospitals and clinics. This must stop.

Just as we came together to promote acceptance of people living with HIV and stood firm against victimisation, we must show understanding, tolerance, kindness, empathy and compassion for those who are infected with this virus and for their families.

It is said that this stigmatisation is driven by fear of contracting the disease and lack of understanding. The best way to overcome our instinctive fear of illness and contagion is to observe the hygiene protocols that are in place. The fear of infection is well-founded and real. At the same time, we know what we have to do to protect ourselves and others.

We know what causes the virus and what we can do to protect ourselves from becoming infected. We know we have to maintain social distancing, to self-isolate if we have come into contact with those infected and to present to a hospital if we have symptoms.

We must continue to be guided by facts and not rumours.

The time when anyone could say they do not know anyone who is infected or affected by coronavirus has long passed. Now, more than ever, our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours need our empathy and support.

In the days, weeks and months that lie ahead, we will at times find ourselves despondent and fearful as we see the numbers of people infected and dying continue to rise. It may be that things have gotten worse, but we are certain that they will get better. Our scientists and medical advisers told us that the rate of infections will go up as we move towards our peak. But it will certainly come down.

We pay tribute to the health care workers who lost their lives caring for the sick. In their memory, let us keep ourselves and our fellow citizens safe by playing our part.

We shall overcome this virus and rebuild our society. We have seen darker times and we have prevailed.

Let us spare neither strength nor courage as we work together to save lives.

With best wishes,