The year 2020 has been a challenging one where much, through the collective effort of departments, was achieved despite the difficulties. The province, like the rest of the country and the globe, had to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains entrenched in our communities.
The hands-on approach by the Provincial Department of Health working with various structures and institutions – both local and national – in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensured that the province averts a far worse situation.
I therefore, on behalf of the Executive Council, the Free State Provincial Government, and the people of this province, applaud everyone who has worked, and continues to work with the government during these trying times.
I noted the announcement made by the Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, on 09 December 2020, that South Africa has now entered a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. I noted also, that the Free State is not amongst the four provinces – namely the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng – declared to be drivers of this new wave. This, however, does not mean that the Free State province is out of the woods. More work still needs to be done to curb the prevalent spread of the virus.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the frontline workers – such as healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, education practitioners, and many other sectors which contributed, and continue to contribute, towards the overall response of the province to the global pandemic.
Despite the challenges which befell the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a significant improvement in the quality of infrastructure of government-owned resorts, which government calls upon all citizens of the province and beyond, to utilize as they embark on year-end excursions.
This year greater accountability, and we shall continue to stand by our stance of constantly upholding the tenets of an ethical government, which maintains transparency at all times.
This year, the province also rallied behind the clarion call to save the 2020 Academic Year, as called upon by National Government. The Free State has, to this end, not only managed to save the academic year, but in the process, ensured that not a single registered learner in the province succumbed to COVID-19. This is a great achievement.
Furthermore, we have as a province, rallied behind the Provincial Department of Education, led by MEC Tate Makgoe, to retain its number one position in terms of matric pass rate, as the department has shown great resilience and innovation in ensuring that no learner is left behind.
Despite the so far prudent response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the province, various sectors remain in great distress. This was also due to the cancellation of major provincial activities such as the Mangaung African Cultural Festival (MACUFE), The Flower Festival, the Cherry Festival, the cancellation of various National and Provincial Calendar activities as well as general events of government in the province. Various businesses, and in particular, the creative sector, remain in great need of intervention, which government is working around the clock to address.
The general instability in local government needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, and this will be a priority in the new year. Unemployment, especially amongst the youth, remains a challenge which will also be prioritized.
Let me implore on all Free Staters, and South Africans in general who will be visiting the province, to take time to enjoy the holidays with family and friends, but to do so responsibly while still strictly adhering to social distancing, wearing of masks at all times when in public, and washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer.
I also wish to emphasize that road safety is the responsibility of all citizens of the province, and South Africans in general, and that all road users must abide by the rules of the road, to ensure that members of the community using the roads remain safe during the Festive Season and beyond.
Let me reassure the general public that the caring government of the Free State will work tirelessly with social partners and stakeholders to build the Free State We Want in the year 2021.
A Blessed Festive Season, Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!
Sefora ‘Sisi Ntombela
Premier of the Free State