I am Mmamokwena Gaoretelelwe, the South African Ambassador in Lisbon, Portugal. This week saw a very different commemoration of our Freedom Day on 27 April, which also falls in the same week as Portugal’s Freedom Day on 25 April. No big celebrations were held, but we can never forget our struggle for freedom and remembered the day in solidarity with fellow South Africans.
However, these historic days come at a time when freedom is taking on a new meaning and requiring us to make sacrifices as we together battle this worldwide invisible enemy, COVID-19. Like in South Africa, Portugal is under lockdown with freedom of movement limited for over 40 days now. I therefore remind myself every day to value our general freedom, while understanding the current measures to save human lives and limit the impact of this pandemic.
In Portugal the first case was reported on 2 March in the northern business hub of Porto, while the first death was reported on 16 March. On 18 March the Portuguese Government announced a State of Emergency, which was followed by lockdown measures including for business, apart from those providing essential services. While Portugal is the 18th most infected in the world, it has been credited with early lockdown measures which have kept its numbers relatively low for example compared to neighbouring Spain, which has recorded 10 times more cases.
Portugal currently has recorded 23,864 cases with 903 deaths. Although the numbers have stabilised, Portugal last week extended the State of Emergency for a second time until 2 May. After the announcement of the State of Emergency and lockdown, the Embassy followed suit and our offices closed from 23 March, with essential staff working from home. But we have remained contactable 24 hours even through Easter.
We are pleased that over the last 6 weeks, we have been able to assist around 80 stranded South Africans, including facilitating the repatriation of many of them to get home. This is a time-bound process as they needed to fly to Frankfurt from Lisbon and to then be connected onto a flight back to South Africa, all with authority and approval from the various. We remain available to assist and support those who remain stranded here. We think of those who have lost loved ones and those fighting COVID-19 in person, while saluting those in the front lines of this pandemic in SA, here in Portugal and across the globe.
During these testing times our Embassy colleagues have been reaching out to each other in support, talking almost daily by phone and creating a What’s App group to keep the spirits up, and encourage each other to stay positive and safe.
I must take this opportunity to also thank DIRCO Management but especially our Consular Colleagues for their dedicated support during these difficult times in have already brought over 3000 South Africans home. Last but not least we salute and pray for our President and Government especially their important leadership in our struggle for freedom from this pandemic.
Let us continue this fight. Remember that we are in this together and the only way we will be able to beat the Coronavirus pandemic is by adhering to the lockdown regulations. Save South Africa. Stay Home.