Your Excellency, the Ambassador of Portugal to South Africa, Mr. Manuel Carvalho
Distinguished officials from the Embassy of Portugal and the Delegation of the European Union
School Principal, Mr. Sokhela Thabani
Nelson Mandela Library’s Director, Mr Sepadi Choeu
Teachers and learners
SGB Chairperson, and Members
Officials from the National Department of Basic Education, as well as the Gauteng Provincial Department of Education
It is my honour and privilege to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Embassy of Portugal for the contribution of 25 Laptops and 2000 Masks to support the phased-in-reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 essentials donation and ICT devices come from the people of Portugal. We warmly accept this act of solidarity amid the devastation caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. This occasion today indeed reaffirms the importance of our bilateral relations, informed by the Memorandum of Consultations, signed in 2002.
Our friendship; both at diplomatic as well as people-to-people levels continue to grow from strength to strength since the advent of our democracy in 1994. Our diplomatic ties transcend the officialdom as we have extended it to people-to-people. This act of kindness opens up new frontiers for an even stronger relationship between Portugal and South Africa from which we can all benefit.
Our bilateral cooperation has indeed provided a much-needed platform for mutual exchange and partnership between our two countries. Like other countries across the world, we have faced significant challenges towards reopening of schools during the COVID-19. Yet, through all these difficult times, we remain steadfast in our quest to ensure that the right of every child to basic education is protected---while also ensuring that all precautions are taken to save lives of all school communities.
One of the significant challenges that we continue to deal with is ensuring that every school child has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as masks to keep the virus at bay. These are key in promoting the COVID-19 pandemic compliance, and protecting lives while allowing schooling to continue. As we know, PPEs are a key arsenal in an all-out war against the pandemic, an invisible enemy.
Thus this donation of masks will go a long way to help to meet the moving target of providing PPEs to learners. The laptops will provide the learners with the necessary tools to partake in the world of technology marked by the interconnectedness of the digital natives. It also provides impetus to learners to connect themselves into the digital future, write themselves into existence as it were.
We will continue to conduct wide-scale monitoring of schools to ensure that precautions and safety measures against the COVID-19 pandemic are maintained at optimal levels. If we get the monitoring right, it will serve as an early warning system to beef up immediately where there are apparent shortages. It is all about saving lives. Through this process of monitoring, we will thus identify the most-needy schools in different provinces, who will benefit from the much-needed masks.
As a country, we are heartened that even during the COVID-19 storm; our mutual commitment to work together in promoting basic education as an integral part of our broader diplomatic relations remains intact, and has been strengthened during these uncertain times.
Programme Director, the donation we are receiving today is part and parcel of the Portuguese people in their quest to help us to stem the tide of the pandemic. Although it is clear that SA, working in tandem with the international community, faced the storm, and now we are beyond the peak. We are at this stage, Mr. Ambassador, because right from the beginning we adopted, “a whole of government” and “whole of international/society” approach to the measures used to arrest the spread of the virus. Despite our recent successes, fears for a second COVID-19 wave abound.
As head of the World Health Organisation has stressed, we have to do everything in our power, both locally and as part of the international community, to prevent the resurgence of this deadly pandemic. It is thus within this context that our borders are partially opened to the international community for the first in over six months.
We have to realise as a society that we must learn to coexist with the virus. Our best response remains non-pharmaceutical measures such as wearing of face marks and other methods as there is still no cure or a vaccine. So, this donation comes at the right time as we gradually open the economy to save livelihoods and rescue, not just the 2020 academic year but a whole generation of learners. While opening up the economy and rescuing the academic year, we have learnt elsewhere, including China, that there are serious risks associated with lifting lockdown restrictions too soon, or in an unsystematic and disorderly manner. This informed our novel hard national lockdown enacted earlier, followed by the risk-adjusted strategy of easing restrictions. This cautious approach has contributed significantly to limiting the spread of the coronavirus and helped us buy time to build capacities for case management.
One of the enduring legacies of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic would be cementing the virtue of transparency which, as we know now, is critical in building public trust.
Despite the good news that we have reached beyond the COVID-19 pandemic peak, we remain at risk. The virus isn’t on level two or planning to go on level one. It is significant to note that our measures have yielded positive results as we have enough hospital bed capacity, ventilators and oxygen tanks for the foreseeable long period of the pandemic. We are heartened that our case facility rate of 2, 1% is lower than the global rate, whilst Egypt has a 5, 4% case fatality rate, higher than the global average of 3, 5%.
We understood from our medical scientists that the virus doesn't travel, but people do, and that's how it is spread; hence we closed down the ports of entry.
Our mammoth task now is the mobilisation of society for the behavioural change needed as we ramp up non-pharmaceutical interventions as a new way to coexist with the virus.
Yet, we remain steadfast in our belief that there is a need to balance saving lives versus livelihoods. We remain committed to our moral and constitutional obligations to save lives, first and foremost.
As a country, and our friends in Portugal, we have managed the COVID-19 pandemic in a spectacular successful fashion. It warms my heart to say both in our respective countries; the worst is over. Portugal was hailed for its early and effective response to COVID-19 this spring, as it managed to avoid a devastating peak like the one seen in neighbouring Spain. It is now dealing firmly with the remnants of the virus through various measures, but the fatalities remain low by comparison.
We have together with the support of the international community, faced the storm, and now we are beyond the peak. Programme directors, it must be noted as I said earlier that we must learn to coexist with the virus, and our best response remains the non-pharmaceutical measures. Our new battle war cry must move the narrative away from inadequate pharmaceutical response to people versus the virus.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my sincere gratitude to the people and the government of Portugal for their generous support to the phased-in-reopening of schools in our country. These are challenging times, of fighting an invisible enemy that seeks to decimate lives and livelihoods. Thankfully, our response, together with the international community, has been marked by solidarity and cooperation.
Finally, I am looking forward to the introduction of Portuguese as an additional language throughout the Republic of South Africa. I can confirm that work on this front is receiving attention at the highest level of our respective Governments. It is through understating each other’s language that artificial barriers are brought down, and lasting friendship is planted.
I thank you.