Freedom Day and Workers' Day - A message from the Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Posted on April 24, 2020

On 27 April 1994, millions of South Africans gathered at voting stations to exercise their hard-won right to vote in a free and democratic election. South Africans had the opportunity to choose their own destiny and to establish a way of life and a national culture of freedom, equality, empowerment and respect for everyone.

The irony of us celebrating Freedom Day in 2020 while we are in a national lockdown due to COVID-19 is not lost on us.

However, it is because of our collective freedom and a desire to protect the greater good of all South Africans that the government has temporarily curtailed that freedom. Over the past 26 years, our democracy has thankfully brought us closer together in agreement with the idea that everyone is important, and that all our lives carry equal value. I strongly urge every member of our UP community and the greater South African and global society to take the necessary precautions and obey the rules of the lockdown in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 among our people, so that we may continue to enjoy our freedom in the future. We must, though, remain mindful of and continue to raise our voices against reports of abuses perpetrated by those meant to enforce regulations in a lawful manner that respects everyone’s human rights.

Freedom for South Africa was a long and hard battle. There are many untold stories of pain and suffering which resulted from the unfairness and oppression of the past. There are many stories of sacrifice, resistance and resilience that have not been told. May we never repeat the mistakes of the past, and may we always appreciate what we have achieved.

Later this week we will also commemorate Workers’ Day, alongside many other countries across the world. This day is dedicated to appreciating our staff and understanding the plight of many workers around the world who are subject to inhumane working conditions. In recent weeks, the crises stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the work of essential staff.

We are grateful to our UP healthcare staff and other healthcare workers, including hospital janitors, receptionists, security guards and cleaners, who are at the forefront of the struggle against COVID-19. We are equally grateful to the retail staff in supermarkets and petrol stations around South Africa, who continue to work despite the risks they are exposed to.

As we commemorate these two national holidays, let us be cognisant that the rights of workers and our collective freedom are interlinked. We cannot call ourselves truly free until we have helped to create a prosperous, just, equitable and equal society in which we protect and sustain each other’s humanity. We do this by making today matter for the greater good.

I hope that as we continue to work from home as best we can, we spare a thought for the many people who are not in formal employment, or those who work as day labourers who have been unable to ply their skills during the lockdown. They have all suffered financially under these conditions. We have many students who come from single-income households that are suffering. As we race around the clock to equip our students with internet-enabled devices to continue their studies wherever they are, we hope that our staff continue to practice THE UP WAY of being kind, empathetic, understanding, and fostering resilience in our students and each other in these uncertain times.

Let us focus on our hope that medical research and clinical trials will lead to the development of a vaccine. Just as many decades ago it seemed we might never attain freedom – until we did – so too will we defeat this virus.

Kind Regards,

Professor Tawana Kupe

Vice-Chancellor and Principal

- Author Tukkievaria

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