My fellow South Africans,
As we reflect on the year that now draws to a close, we see a world that is fundamentally different to anything we have known before.
There is no corner of the earth, nor any part of our country, that has been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.
It has devastated lives and destroyed livelihoods, caused great pain, and left many people hungry and destitute.
At the same time, it has brought our people together.
The pandemic has demonstrated our people’s great capacity for cooperation, solidarity and shared endeavour.
Globally, the countries of the world have worked together to share information and resources.
Our continent, under the leadership of the African Union, came together to develop a common response to this pandemic, and found an innovative way to ensure all countries have access to essential medical supplies.
We have gone out to the rest of the world to advocate for debt relief and to mobilise funds for Africa’s coronavirus response and for its economic recovery.
In the face of this unprecedented crisis, South Africans have demonstrated the true meaning of ‘ubuntu’.
We have taken responsibility for each other’s welfare, by donating our time, our energies and our resources.
Working together, we have mobilised the nation’s resources under difficult conditions and in a very short space of time to support poor families, protect jobs and keep businesses afloat.
It has been a year of uncertainty, pain, worry and loss.
Many people have been called upon to make huge sacrifices.
Many have been worried for their jobs, many have struggled to make a living,.
Nearly all South Africans have had to spend time separated from their loved ones.
As this year draws to a close, we mourn the loss of relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours who succumbed to COVID-19.
As a nation, we mourn the loss of several eminent South Africans and people from all walks of life.
Even as we were struck by coronavirus, we had to confront another pandemic that has long plagued our nation.
We mourn the many women and children who lost their lives at the hands of men.
We think of the many more who have had to endure rape and beatings, abusive relationships and sexual harassment.
We think of the many children that have been injured and traumatised by adults – the very people who are responsible for their wellbeing and safety.
And yet, in the face of both these pandemics, South Africans have remained resolute, determined to overcome the coronavirus, and determined to end gender-based violence.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to every South African for the courage and the perseverance with which you have confronted this crisis.
I want to thank the health and social services workers for taking care of people who are ill, hungry or lonely.
Even as the New Year dawns, in hospitals and other health facilities across the nation, committed health workers are caring for the sick in the face of a severe resurgence of infections.
Throughout the year, they have worked tirelessly and at great risk to themselves to care for us and protect us.
We have a duty to protect them from harm and fatigue by acting responsibly, by ensuring that we do not become infected and that we do not infect others.
I also want thank the men and women in our law enforcement agencies and our Defence Force, who are keeping us safe from crime, violence and harm.
In the many ways that COVID-19 affected our lives this past year, one of the most challenging was the disruption caused to learning and teaching in our schools, colleges and universities.
The pandemic threatened the educational development of an entire generation of South Africans.
It is therefore with great admiration and much respect that I salute the learners and the students of 2020 for having continued with their studies under such difficult conditions.
In some instances, they have had to continue the academic year into 2021.
I want to thank the educators, lecturers, administrators and school governing bodies for having worked so hard to save the academic year and to ensure that the young people of our country progress and succeed.
We are grateful to the country’s religious leaders and traditional leaders for having suspended or limited many of their activities during the pandemic.
We are grateful to our sports people and administrators, to our artists and performers, and to all those who have been unable to continue their trade to prevent the spread of the disease.
I want to thank all Members of Parliament, Members of Provincial Legislatures, local government councillors and all public servants for having remained at their posts even at the most difficult moments of the pandemic – and for having continued throughout to serve the nation.
We enter a new year ready to rebuild our economy, to revive businesses and restore jobs, and to continue our drive for new investment.
Working together in partnership, we are undertaking an ambitious recovery plan
to build new roads and water projects, human settlements and power generation plants.
We have made important progress in vital economic reforms to ensure we have a secure supply of affordable energy; that we have cheaper, faster and more accessible broadband; and that our ports and railways are more efficient and more competitive.
We are creating public employment opportunities that contribute to the betterment of people’s lives, and providing greater support to the small businesses that drive growth and create jobs.
We are accelerating the redistribution of land and improving the support provided to beneficiaries.
Through this work, we are transforming our economy, enabling more black people, women and young people to participate in, and benefit from, activities from which they had previously been excluded.
Due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, we have had to learn to work, to learn, to trade and to socialise in new and different ways.
We have harnessed technology as never before to keep our economy working, and we need to use the great advances we have made to shape a new world of work that is more productive, more efficient and more focused on the needs of people.
We are just a few hours away from the birth of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will fundamentally change the economic fortunes of our continent.
It is the start of a new era of trade between African countries, when the continent will produce the goods and services it needs, when its economies will grow, industrialise and diversify, when it will realise the great potential of its abundant natural resources.
I call on the entrepreneurs of our nation to seize the abundant opportunities that this historic development will present to explore new markets and build new partnerships.
This is an opportunity to empower the women of Africa through special trade arrangements, financial inclusion and preferential access to government and private sector procurement.
South Africa’s chairship of the African Union is now coming to an end, just as we also end our term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Through these important bodies, we have championed the cause of peace and development not only in Africa, but across the world.
We have worked to strengthen the multilateral institutions that are so necessary for global cooperation and for the sustainable development of all.
The year ahead will be challenging and difficult.
We are in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus infections, which may be even worse than the first wave.
And while we are greatly encouraged by the progress made in developing an effective vaccine, we know that it will be some time before the pandemic ends.
The year ahead will therefore require our greatest effort and resilience.
The past year has shown what we are capable of when we are united and when we work together for the good of all.
It is this spirit that will carry us into the new year, and which will enable us to prevail and to prosper.
I wish you a happy and healthy 2021.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.