Delivering the 2021 State of the Nation Address (SONA) in a hybrid joint sitting of Parliament yesterday, President Cyril Ramaphosa took the nation down memory lane to the release of former President Nelson Mandela 31 years ago, when he walked out of the gates of Victor Verster prison as a free person, a living embodiment of the resilience and courage of the South African people.
President Ramaphosa said: “On the day of his release, Madiba gave his first public address here in Cape Town, where he reminded South Africans there were difficult days ahead, and that the battle was far from won.”
Quoting President Mandela, President Ramaphosa said: “Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive.”
In counting the great cost of the past year (2020), President Ramaphosa said we may be tempted to lose faith. “But we can get through this. Because we are a nation of heroes.”
The President also compared our resilience to South Africa’s extraordinary fybos family of plants that have thrived on the southern-most tip of Africa for 40 million years. This group of plants included the national flower, the protea, and is one of the most diverse on the planet. Fynbos is also very adaptable and thrives in hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. And every once in a while, it needs fire to burn through it, so that seeds can be released, plants can rejuvenate and the whole cycle of life can begin again. “Throughout the summer, the burned foliage lies desolate,” President Ramaphosa said. “But when the autumn rains return, the seeds germinate, and its life cycle begins all over again.”
Nearly a year has passed since South Africa saw its first case of Covid-19. “As we look on the grave damage that this disease has caused,” the President continued, “we know that like the fynbos, like all those who have walked this land before us, we will rise again.”
The President said that as he delivers this speech, nearly one-and-a-half million South Africans have been infected by the virus and more than 45 000 people are known to have died. “Beyond these statistics lies a human story of tragedy and pain. It is also a story of courage and resilience.” The year ahead must be a time for change, the President said, for progress and for rebirth, and must it must be a year in which we rise.
11 February 2021