In celebration of the resilience of South Africans’ after two challenging years of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, a colourful display was created at Steyn City School in Midrand on Wednesday.
More than 4 500 knitted blankets were laid down in a square shape as part of the 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day – a campaign hosted by philanthropist and KnitWit-in-chief Carolyn Steyn in partnership with the organisation Gift of the Givers.
Two cheques of R67 000 each, were handed to the humanitarian organisations the Gift of the Givers and Doctors Without Borders.
Steyn’s non-profit organisation partnered with the Gift of the Givers to distribute the blankets to charities and destitute families in time for winter.
With Covid-19 still in our midst, Doctors Without Borders’ regional migration adviser, Vinayak Bhardwaj, raised concern that South Africa had the lowest vaccination rate for migrants and refugees.
This was not only because its hard to register for vaccination but also because foreign nationals fear being deported and arrested.
“We cannot afford to turn our hospitals into deportation centres and turn our nurses and doctors into immigration offices. We hear these xenophobic utterances every day, even in the health department.”
Bhardwaj encouraged South Africans to revisit a lesson emphasised during the pandemic: “The health of each us depends on the health of us all.”
Bhardwaj said South Africa was the largest host of asylum seekers and refugees in Africa and had a history of being open to vulnerable populations.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, South Africa hosts 250 250 refugees and asylum-seekers mainly from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
Dr Amany Asfour, the president of Egypt’s Business and Professional Women, called the blankets a symbol of integrity and inclusion of not only South Africa but Africa.
“The colours come together to symbolise our African continent and Pan Africanism – no matter colour, race or religion it comes together to represent one Africa,” Asfour said.
“My dear sisters and brothers, I have seen the great work that you are doing. In this cold season it shows how this work of blankets is very important to the women in rural areas, and the young and old who will be covered by the warmth of the hearts that knitted these blankets.”
Asfour added that although the pandemic affected everyone, “it gave us an understanding of potentials and challenges in Africa”.
Citing the impact of the war being waged by Russia in Ukraine, Asfour said Africa needed to understand how it could empower its pharmaceutical industries to manage its own resources such as vaccines.
“In our continent it’s not just blankets [we need], it’s production, it’s about community work, it’s about bringing effort together.”
Meanwhile, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who also attended the launch, underpinned the importance of education around the climate crisis, which was thrust into the spotlight with the recent deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We have to educate our people about the importance of preserving the environment and our biodiversity. We can start with little things and take responsibility for our actions and how littering influences our environment and living standards.”