South Africa: Heritage Day Statement From Parliament's Presiding Officers

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Heritage Day, on 24 September, was declared a public holiday in recognition and celebration of our cultural wealth and diversity as a nation. This is reflected, amongst others, in our glorious history, our World Heritage Sites, historical artefacts and in the human treasures still living amongst us.

It's a day for us to pause and take time to remind ourselves about what unites us. It's an opportunity to reflect on our common journey as a people, and how we, together, can do more to build that South Africa of which our Constitution speaks so eloquently and for which we yearn.

It is about celebrating South Africa's rich tapestry of people (who the apartheid regime sought to divide and rule on the basis of race), with their varying languages and cultures, human solidarity, human dignity, unity and respect, among other things. It is about observing what unites us, what makes us stronger to withstand testing times, as we build a truly non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous nation.

It is our endeavour for Ubuntu, human dignity, human decency and harmony that has, notwithstanding the most depressing challenges of this year, seen us rising together against a deadly global pandemic - that tested health systems and ravaged economies of even the strongest nations elsewhere in the world. It was, and still is, not an easy battle.

However, through the unity of purpose, partnerships and synergies that characterise our true being as a nation, we prevailed against a common enemy, resulting in the easing of our COVID-19 regulations to level 1. As the battle continues, we pay tribute to all frontline workers, at the heart of our fight against the pandemic, for their courage, their noble selflessness.

Rebuilding our economy after COVID-19 will require all compatriots to tap into what we should regard as our common heritage - the spirit of Ubuntu - by ensuring a united front to tackle the socio-economic hardships brought about by this pandemic. As government and its social partners in Nedlac have agreed on a roadmap to get the nation out of this quagmire, we must, also, during this time, look after one another. We must be each other's keeper, particularly when it comes to those hit hardest by this virus.

Unfortunately, as the nation is battling this unprecedented challenge, some individuals and companies have sought to unscrupulously benefit from this devastating crisis by embezzling funds intended to save lives, particularly of the poor.

Such brazen disregard for the sanctity of life and the greediness goes against everything we should stand for as a nation, particularly during a crisis of this magnitude.

We strongly condemn such rampant acts of corruption and urge the criminal justice system to leave no stone unturned in bringing justice, particularly to the poorest of the poor.

As we mark Heritage Day tomorrow, let us recommit to increasing our efforts to root out the ills still plaguing our society. These include the violence which continues to cast a pall of fear on the people of our beautiful land - our women and children in particular.

We are heartened by the commitment from our law enforcement agencies to act against the perpetrators of these crimes and by improved measures to rein in these crimes. We trust this will happen with speed.

Three new gender-based violence Bills, currently before Parliament, for example, aim to plug existing legal loopholes, to deter gender-based violence and to give full effect to women's and children's rights. They are the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill and the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill. We encourage members of the public to make representations on these Bills to the parliamentary committee that is considering them.

But laws, alone, are not enough.

As we continue to work together to mitigate the health and economic effects of COVID-19, so, too, let us also work together to change the environment which allows corruption, violence and other social ills to flourish.

We must become one another's keepers, looking out for one another, not looking away.

Let us, united in our diversity, build that prosperous South Africa in which the quality of life of all is improved and the potential of each person is freed. We owe it to ourselves, to those who sacrificed so much to bring about our democracy and to the generations who will follow us.

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