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Minister Angie Motshekga: Official handover of Coronavirus COVID-19 essentials

11 Sep 2020

Keynote Address by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, at the official handover of COVID-19 essentials donated by the Embassy of China in South Africa, 11 September 2020

Programme Directors;

The Charge'd Affairs (Acting Ambassador) of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China to South Africa, Mr Li Nan;

Distinguished officials from the Embassy;

Officials from the National Department of Basic Education, as well as the Northern Cape Provincial Department of Education;

Distinguished guests;

It is my honour and privilege to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the People’s Republic of China, for the contribution of water tanks, masks and thermometers to support the phased-in-reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 essentials donation comes from the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

This occasion today indeed reaffirms the importance of our basic education cooperation agreement between our countries, which continues to grow from strength to strength since it was signed in 2013.

As we both know the Republic of South Africa signed the full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1998. Our diplomatic ties transcend the officialdom as we have extended it to people-to-people. 

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 has sufficient and fully functional hand washing facilities, to promote the COVID-19 pandemic compliant hygiene in schools. As we know, this is key in an all-out war against the pandemic.

Thus this donation of water tanks will go a long way to minimize the backlogs. As we speak, I am told that work is already underway here in the Northern Cape Department of Education to install water tanks in seven schools within the Pixley ka Seme District Municipality. Of course, this is courtesy of our friends from the Chinese Embassy. This project will ensure uninterrupted water supply to a total of 2821 learners in the province.  As some of us know, this province of the Northern Cape is prone to drought; thus we have opted for a more durable and permanent solution that will ensure that schools have access to water for years to come.

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 and thermometers.

I am 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 Chinese People and our government's final assault against the COVID-19 pandemic. This donation is more apt 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.

Thus, Programme director, it must be noted that we must learn to coexist with the virus. Our best response remains non-pharmaceutical measures as there is still no cure either a vaccine. 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.

For instance, within the SADC region, South Africa continues to have the highest number of COVID-19 infections accounting for 90% of all cases and 91% of all deaths. However, the South African 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. As a result, we implemented the hard national lockdown earlier, followed by the risk-adjusted strategy of easing restrictions, this approach contributed significantly to limiting the spread of the coronavirus and helped us buy time to build capacities for case management.

Our mammoth task now is the mobilization 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 China, 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.

We have together with the support of the international community, faced the storm, and now we are beyond the peak. We are at this stage because right from the beginning, we adopted, “a whole of government” and “whole of society” approach to the measures to arrest the spread of the pandemic. Yet, fears for the second wave abound. 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.

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 as there is still no cure either a vaccine. Thus this donation of water tanks and other COVID-19 essentials speak to the war cry to 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 government of China for their generous support to the phased-in-reopening of schools in our country during this challenging times, of fighting an invisible enemy known as COVID-19.

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