It has been over five months since President Cyril Ramaphosa uttered these words whilst announcing a State of National Disaster and the National Lockdown on 16 March 2020. In the same week on 23 March 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General launched the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan and said “We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus. This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable.”
Since then, almost 25 million people have been infected with 17 million people recovering. Regrettably, more than 800 thousand lives have been lost globally. Here at home, we have seen more than 600 thousand people infected of which just over 500 thousand people have recovered so far, translating to over 82 percent, which is both incredible and a great relief. Regrettably, we have lost more than 13 000 lives during the same period from this invisible enemy – COVID-19.
These are not just numbers, these are precious people’s lives that this disease has taken from us. Each life lost is someone’s father, someone’s mother, sister or brother; it is someone’s husband, wife or child. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and the distress that people are going through, my heart and prayers go out to each person who has lost a loved one. Some children have been left orphaned and some people left widowed. This disease has been devastating on a personal as well as a national level.
We pay a special tribute to all our frontline workers – health workers, the police, the defence force members, doctors, nurses and specialists who have lost their lives in the battle against COVID-19. As the frontline workers they risk and sacrifice their own lives to save other people’s lives, this is absolutely the ultimate sacrifice any person can give in service to a nation and humanity. Our words are not enough to thank them and their families. We call upon our government to have a special day to honour and remember all our fallen frontlines workers who have lost their lives in the battle against this invisible enemy.
The cost of this pandemic is not only the economic disaster and loss of human life we have suffered; we must admit that the last five months have been immensely difficult and challenging for everyone – socially, financially, emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Our faith and patience have been tested to the full. Our tolerance has been tested. But so far, as South Africans, we have shown a capacity for unity in the face of heavy challenges, how to overcome adversity, and how to maintain a resilient spirit.
It is clear that by South Africans working together in unity we were able to minimize the impact and the damage of the crisis in our country. The same will be true going forward. On Saturday 15 August 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa, when addressing the nation, announced that the entire country will be going to Alert Level 2, more restrictions will be eased and more industries will be opened to save our economy, jobs and people’s livelihoods.
At this point, we must acknowledge the good work done by our President and his government particularly the Minister Of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize. In fact, there has been great praise both locally and internationally especially from the World Health Organisation, for how quickly and decisively South Africa acted against the COVID-19 pandemic. The President has stood up to the challenge in this difficult time, trying to keep a fine balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods. We believe the government has largely responded well to this pandemic even though many mistakes were made, as President Ramaphosa himself admitted to the nation, there is however a broad consensus that the Leadership of the country responded well to the crisis.
In his address to the nation, the President issued a warning that the easing of lockdown restriction does not mean the virus has gone and that we are out of the woods. We support this call for vigilance by the President.
This is not the time to be complacent and let our guard down. We have seen in other countries around the world that the moment people let their guard down, the number of infections starts rising again more rapidly and countries have been forced to respond with even stronger measures. We don’t want to follow the example of these countries.
We have come too far to give up now, we have sacrificed too much, we have given everything that was asked of us – we cannot give up now and act irresponsibly. We must continue fighting this invisible enemy together in unity, in the most effective way possible. We must keep the protocols that are in place as we start opening up our economy – the washing of hands, using sanitizers, social distancing and the use of a cloth mask.
In the case of wearing masks, we have been an example to the world, doing so diligently while other countries were still debating whether or not to use them. South Africans have shown generosity and displayed the spirit of Ubuntu and unity during these difficult times. It is this spirit of unity we need to carry through to overcome this disease. The coming months may be challenging and difficult for everyone, particularly on the economic front, but as South Africans, we have it within us to overcome any adversity, we are known for overcoming many challenges in the past – we have a resilient spirit.
We are people of hope, and it is hope for the future that will carry us. Sustaining our hope will help us to overcome and give us the strength to continue no matter how difficult it looks and feels. We must not lose hope, nor give up on hope because tomorrow will be better. Every storm eventually dissipates and the winds die down. Every cloud runs out of rain and the sun reappears.
I’m reminded of the words by our former President Nelson Mandela when he said “We should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling but in rising every time you fall.” Things may be tough and difficult right now but we will overcome these challenges. Our future is bright and we have hope for a better tomorrow. God bless South Africa and protect her people.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS COUNCIL