Opening Remarks
Hon. Minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize
16 June 2020

Launch of the Multi-sectoral Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social Change

• The Hon Minister of Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu
• The Honourable Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Joe Phaahla
• The Director General of Health Dr. Sandile Buthelezi
• The Director General of Social Development Mr Linton Mchunu
• Senior National Department of Health Officials
• Senior Department of Social Development officials
• All Prospective members of the Multi-sectoral Advisory Committee on Social Behaviour with special mention of the inaugural MAC Chairperson Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana
• All government officials
• All Stakeholders of Social Behavioral Change
• Members of the Public
• Members of the media

… And last but not least…

The Youth of South Africa.

Forty-four years ago, the youth of Soweto woke up to a Winter’s morning much like today. But this was a different day – on that day, nothing was going to stop the youth from the pursuit of freedom; not even death.

Today, we commemorate these youth, who laid down their lives so that we may be free in ours. We commemorate the spirits of our young fighters and invoke this same spirit in the people of South Africa during these extraordinary times.

On June 16, 1976, the youth of South Africa faced the enemy of Apartheid, determined to defeat it no matter the sacrifices that needed to be made.

Today, as a nation, as humanity, we face an unseen enemy – an enemy that knows no race, no religion, no border, no government, no king, no peasant. It only knows human, and how to get from one to the next one.

Today, our youth must once again fight for their lives, their livelihoods and their freedom.

We too have lost young soldiers in the fight. Since the advent of the pandemic on our shores, we have lost 123 fellow South Africans who were 39 years old or younger, with 29 of those under the age of 30. We pay special respect to these young lives today and extend our condolences to the families and loved ones of our fallen compatriots.

It is imperative that we do not fall into despair as we combat COVID-19. We can never be complacent or found wanting. The Coronavirus has decimated some of the strongest health care systems and called on humanity to entirely reassess its way of living.

It has changed the way we do things: the way we dress; the way we wash our hands; and the way we greet or show affection. It has disrupted our social lives and threatens to sink economies. It has forced humanity to choose between life or external trappings.

It is possible to fight back. Like the youth of 1976, it takes consciousness, discipline, co-operation and courage to turn the tide against this invisible enemy.

We can turn the tide against this enemy. As a country we can maintain control over the Coronavirus.

We recognize that the Coronavirus has wreaked havoc in many sectors of society – and continues to threaten those who have vulnerabilities.

The socio-economic effects are being felt in grim ways, like when we see Gender-Based-Violence or alcoholism and trauma.

As South Africans, we cannot afford to have excuses. The whole world is going through what we are going through. We are not alone in this fight. Our hard-won freedoms were to afford us the opportunity to be the masters of our own fate. As President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “South Africa… it is in your hands.”

We can choose how this story is going to go.

We may not know how it all began, but we must certainly say how it will end.

Today, we are here to make that choice.

We choose for this to be a story of emancipation and empowerment.

This social compact is a transition from relying on enforcement to relying on the sheer goodwill and tenacity of South Africans to do what it takes to save lives and livelihoods.

I am very excited to open this official launch of the Multi-sectoral Ministerial Advisory Committee on Social Behavioural Change.

This MAC on Social Behavioural Change has been convened jointly by myself and the Minister of Social Development in the spirit of multi-sector collaboration.

Whilst the most urgent work of the MAC will be to facilitate diverse stakeholder cooperation in our COVID-19 response, the work naturally extends into the tenets of the Health Compact and ultimately the National Health Insurance in that it also facilitates action for fair access to quality health care and a long and healthy life for all South Africans.

This MAC is actually inspired by you, our fellow South Africans. It was South Africans who stayed at home for five weeks; who sacrificed their places of worship; sacrificed their sport; sacrificed their favourite restaurant; sacrificed the Sunday surfs; sacrificed seeing family and friends; postponed weddings; avoided shisanyamas; and denied themselves the touch of another human.

That collective discipline and cooperation is what allowed us to flatten the curve, push the peak out by a few months, save many lives and balance our resources.

What we are seeing now is nothing compared to that had we not made the sacrifices that we made. At the beginning, the rate of spread was doubling every second day – but during lockdown, we reduced the doubling time to every 15 days.

But now, as we re-open the economy amidst rising infections, we appreciate more and more the difficulty of sustaining what feels unnatural.

Behavioural change needs constant reinforcement and affirmation. It needs the entire buy-in of individuals, communities, societies, cultures and various social groupings.

As a consultative government, we are particularly excited about this initiative as we look forward to gaining deeper insight into the desires and will of our people and how we can partner together to achieve the things we know we are capable of achieving.

COVID-19 has traversed across sectors of society – in some instances merely uncovering what was already broken, but in other cases, inspiring breakthroughs and innovation.

Minister Zulu has had her work cut out for her, steering the social relief ship during this national crisis. She’s been up and down, trying to assist to provide humanitarian relief.

As a doctor myself, who has witnessed first-hand that ill health begins when there is a social injustice, I am really pleased to be joining you Minister in this partnership of Health and Social Development.

With my colleague, Deputy Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, we recognized the role that civil society plays beyond the walls of our clinics and our hospitals.

As we launch this MAC on Social Behavioural Change, we recognize and support the sterling work of our health workers who have been fighting this pandemic on the frontline. Our professionals have played the best role that we could have offered.

To our laboratory teams that have been out there testing specimens and approaching each specimen as a life to be handled with care and compassion, we pay tribute to them.

We also pay tribute to administrators who have had sleepless nights to ensure we have the wherewithal to fight the infection.

But today, we are taking the fight outside the clinics, the hospitals and administrative buildings.

This has to be a grassroots movement. The fight against COVID-19 is going to be won at home, in a church, in a taxi, on the streets, in a restaurant…and in every part of our social lives. It is not about whether there is a curfew or there is a policeman watching your movements. This is now about every South African taking the fight on.

We need to build a new culture – at a ward and district level – so that everyone out there knows that there is one message, and that was the message sent to us by the President: that we need to hold each other’s hands and fight this pandemic together.

This is the time that we need to be more united as we move on. It’s no longer going to be about what the government has said or done – it will be about how each individual responds.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every member of the MAC for answering the Thuma Mina call and stepping into the belly of the COVID-19 combat machinery. We know that your expertise and passion for the upliftment and empowerment of South Africans will keep the fighting spirit alive as we evolve into a new normal.

I also wish to thank Minister Zulu for her support and guidance. We look forward to receiving advice from the MAC on how to mobilize communities in a fight that will ultimately turn the tide against COVID-19.

Thank You