It is my honour to join you at this time of deep importance to millions of Christians around the world. Although we are not worshiping as we normally do, we are together in mind, in heart and in spirit.
We are strengthened by the invisible bonds of faith and fellowship. As we commemorate Easter this year, a shadow hangs over our world. We are in the grip of a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen for over a hundred years. The coronavirus continues to spread, leaving devastation in its wake. More than a million people are infected. Over 90,000 have lost their lives.
In the rich countries of the North and the developing South, governments struggle to cope with rising infections. In South Africa, nearly 2,000 people have become infected with the virus, and 20 have tragically lost their lives.
Last night, I announced that the nation-wide lockdown that has been in effect for the past two weeks will be extended until the end of the month as we try to slow down the rate of infection. I also announced a range of measures we have put in place to protect our economy, to protect those at risk of infection, to care for the sick and to support those in need. This is a time of great uncertainty for us all.
Many of us are anxious about our health and the health of our children. We worry how we will be able to make ends meet or if we will have jobs to go back to. The poorest of the poor worry where their next meal will come from. Our young people are unsure that they will be able to finish their studies or graduate. Business owners are counting the cost of the closures and what it will mean for them and those who depend on them to earn a living. Many feel vulnerable. Others feel frustrated and powerless. Many are afraid.
But we South Africans are a resilient people. We endured the worst excesses of a dark past and were able to emerge, united and strong. The virtues of courage, of optimism and of compassion carried us along the path to freedom, and they are what sustain us today.
As we recall and recount the life of Christ on this Good Friday, we also remember the greatest virtue of all, that of sacrifice. Despite the heavy burden that has been placed on our people over the past two weeks, we have understood that for the greater good these sacrifices have had to be made. Our people have endured the extreme restrictions on their daily lives with patience and fortitude.
As Christians, the belief that Christ gave his life as a ransom for humankind is the most fundamental tenet of faith. Today, many Christians around the world recite the Way of the Cross, remembering the pain Christ suffered. This meditation on deprivation and adversity is a reminder that, throughout history, as they face daily life, every human being upon this earth has had their own cross to bear.
The coronavirus pandemic is a heavy cross being carried on the shoulders of all of humankind. Rich and poor, young and old, black and white, men and women suffer under its weight. But the message of Easter is also one of hope, of recovery, of triumph and of rebirth. We have the utmost confidence that the measures we have taken, of declaring a national state of disaster and of imposing a lockdown, have been correct and absolutely necessary.
Since the lockdown began, the rate of identified new cases has slowed. Together with other measures like closing our borders and putting an end to public gatherings, we are seeing progress.
If we continue to observe social distancing and proper hygiene, if we continue to scale up detection and testing to ensure those who need medical care get it, we will be able to turn things around.
The faith community has played a vital role in supporting the national effort to contain the coronavirus, and for this we thank each and every one of you. It has not been easy. Worshiping in congregation is a source of strength and comfort to many.
It has been hard for those who have lost loved ones to be unable to attend their burials. Couples wishing to marry have had to postpone their plans. But you have endured with patience.
In the true spirit of Christian fellowship, you have extended a hand to the poor, the sick and the hungry. The pastoral and charity work by our Christian community has been a lifeline for many of our people in their hour of need and comfort in their time of sorrow. On behalf of all the people of South Africa, I thank you.
As we are reminded in the Scriptures: blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. And blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. We have a long and difficult journey before us. If we are to emerge victorious we must remain vigilant. We have to continue to comply with the restrictions that are so necessary to preserve human life. We have to take the greatest of care of our own health and the health of those around us.
We have to expend our every effort and energy to ensure that this period of hardship does not leave our economy in ruins. We have to give support to those who need our help in any way we can. I call upon each of you to make a donation, no matter how small, to the Solidarity Fund that was established to combat the coronavirus pandemic. I call upon you to continue to help your friends, your neighbours and those whom you do not even know through the acts of kindness and charity you perform each day.
This is a time of great trial for our country. We will at times find ourselves and our very faith sorely tested. Yet we know that the harshest of tests pushes us to persevere and to prevail. Working together, side by side, we will weather this storm and we shall overcome. Humanity will rise again.
I wish you all good health and spirit during this blessed time.
May the Easter message unite us, nourish us and give us strength in the days ahead.
May God bless South Africa and protect her people.
May He continue to hold us in the palm of His hand.
I thank you.
By President Cyril Ramaphosa