President Cyril Ramaphosa has on Human Rights Day called on all South Africans to unite behind national efforts to curb and combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We observe Human Rights Day at an extraordinary time for our country and the world, as we battle to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19,” Ramaphosa said in a statement on Saturday.
“Regrettably this year we are not observing this day as we usually do by gathering in our numbers as we do with our national days. The prohibition of gatherings over 100 people is for the health and safety of all.
“This disruption is one of many necessary interventions we need to embrace as our nation sets out to meet a challenge that calls for unity, social solidarity and personal discipline among all South Africans.
“The threat posed by this formidable adversary has compelled us to take unprecedented steps to protect the most fundamental human right of all, and that is the right to life,” the president added.
Human Rights Day commemorates the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, when police opened fire on a group of people protesting against apartheid pass laws, killing 69 people and injuring more than 180 others.
Nation must ‘dramatically alter our behaviour’
Now, South Africa faces another threat as the novel coronavirus begins to spread throughout South Africa.
By Saturday, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases stood at 240.
“The right to life, to health and to economic activity is under threat from a virus that has necessitated that we dramatically alter our behaviour as a nation. It further demands of us to look at ourselves and the world around us in ways we have not imagined,” Ramaphosa said.
“If this coronavirus is to leave any positive legacy, let it be that it brought all of us closer together not just for survival in this moment but for our future together as a nation that is destined to overcome this challenge.
“As we work together in the best interests of our country, South Africa, today, the events of Sharpeville and Langa on this day 60 years ago remind us of a time when the majority of citizens enjoyed no protection or recognition by the state and were deprived of their fundamental right to dignity.”
Ramaphosa said the theme for Human Rights Day 2020 is the year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building. He said it was “a profound call to action for all South Africans to play their part in ensuring the recovery of every citizen infected by the virus and the recovery of the economy from the deep effects of this global pandemic”.
“Let us be inspired today by the certainty that inspired the people of Sharpeville and Langa: that they would overcome. They did overcome. And so will we,” Ramaphosa concluded.