South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday asked the World Trade Organisation to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to bridge the huge gap in vaccination rates worldwide.
India and South Africa last year brought forward the intellectual property waiver proposal before the WTO but there has been no consensus.
Proponents argue the temporary removal of IP rights will boost production in developing countries and address the dramatic inequity in access.
But there is fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, which insist patents are not the main roadblocks to scaling up production and warn the move could hamper innovation.
“The world is at this moment experiencing the debilitating effects of inequality in the patterns of global production,” Ramaphosa told a WTO round table by video link on the pandemic and trade-related issues.
“It is said that less than three per cent of adults are fully vaccinated in most low-income countries, compared to almost 60 per cent in high-income countries. This gross inequality is both unjust and counterproductive,” said Ramaphosa, whose country is the worst hit by coronavirus in Africa both in terms of infections and deaths.
“Passing a time-bound targeted TRIPS waiver as proposed by South Africa and India — and now supported by many countries around the world — is urgent if we are to save millions of lives.”
TRIPS is a comprehensive WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which is used to resolve trade disputes over IP.
Pressure is mounting for an accord ahead of the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO, which runs from November 30 to December 3 in Geneva.
WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the yawning chasm in vaccination rates between the haves and the have nots was “devastating for the lives and livelihoods of Africans” and “morally unacceptable”.
She added: “That is why it is so important to deliver results at the WTO in the weeks remaining before our 12 ministerial conference.”
Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday told hundreds of supporters camped outside his home his rights had been violated as a deadline approached for him to surrender to authorities.
“My constitutional rights were abused” by judges of the country’s constitutional court, said Zuma, who has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to give evidence to corruption investigators.
“No need for me to go to jail today,” he told journalists at his Nkandla homestead in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where hundreds of his supporters are camped outside in solidarity.
His supporters have vowed to render South Africa ungovernable if he is jailed.
After sentencing Zuma, the South African court nonetheless agreed to hear his challenge to rescind the order.
A surrender deadline was set to run out on Sunday but 79-year-old Zuma has shown no sign he will hand himself in.
In a show of force, loyalists clad in their African National Congress (ANC) regalia have been outside their embattled leader’s Nkandla homestead in Kwa-Zulu Natal province for weeks.
“When I saw the police here I wondered how will they get to me, how will they get through all these people,” Zuma said as he continued to mock South African authorities.
“If (Police Minister) Bheki Cele comes here to arrest uBaba (Zuma) he must start with us,” supporter Lindokuhle Maphalala told AFP.
Vowing to protect Zuma, the protesters called for President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down.
“We are here to say Ramaphosa must step down. Must step down”, a visibly angry loyalist said. “As from Monday, we will make the country ungovernable.”
Police, under orders to arrest Zuma if necessary, were stationed across the province on Sunday to control the crowds descending on Nkandla.
If Zuma fails to turn himself in, police will be given a further three days to arrest him.
Cathleen Powell, a South African law professor, told AFP the decision to hear Zuma’s challenge did not suspend the constitutional court ruling.
Over the weekend, the ruling ANC sent representatives to speak with Zuma at his home, which was renovated while he was president at a cost of around 20 million euros ($24 million) to the taxpayer.
The party could face a serious political crisis between those who back Zuma and others loyal to Ramaphosa, who has campaigned on a pledge to fight corruption.
Zuma has also been accused of involvement in a bribery affair that goes back more than 20 years.
He allegedly received more than four million rands, around 235,000 euros at current rates, from French defence group Thales, which was awarded a contract worth around 2.8 billion euros overall.
Hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully on Thursday in front of a police station in downtown Johannesburg following the death of an unarmed passerby during a South African student protest against fees a day earlier.
A 35-year-old government worker was caught in the crossfire while walking out of a doctor’s office and shot dead on a street where university students were protesting over fees debt.
The incident sparked anger over police brutality.
Around 300 people, including students, ruling and opposition party activists, as well labour union members marched to the police office where nearly two dozen armed officers guarded the main entrance.
“We are here to condemn them in the strongest force possible,” said Aubrey Moloto, 37, who was marching in solidarity with the students.
“Enough is enough”.
From the police station, the procession marched to the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), where they were addressed by the party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Earlier, Police Minister Bheki Cele expressed his condolences to the family of the dead man and said the killing was indefensible.
“I can’t explain it. Somebody… just went crazy,” said the police official about the shooting.
It is not clear yet whether police used live ammunition during Wednesday’s protests, but a police watchdog has launched a probe into the killing.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse students who were protesting outside University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), one of the country’s top-tier institutions.
The students had blocked roads with rubble and burning plastic trash bins, disrupting traffic, a street away from campus.
The students demanded that the university allow those in arrears on their fees — some by up to $9,800 — be allowed to register for the 2021 academic year.
Wits vice-chancellor, Zeblon Vilakazi told reporters earlier that the protests “could have been resolved better”.
In a post-cabinet briefing, government said it “urges the police to exercise restraint whilst ensuring public order during protests and never to use live ammunition”.
The South African government will unveil its fiscal 2021 spending plans Wednesday as the continent’s most industrialised economy chief Ursula von der Leyengrapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic on top of a recession.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni traditionally delivers his national budget speech alongside a potted aloe vera plant, highly resistant to drought, as a symbol of South Africa’s economic resilience.
Resilience will be needed after a year of rolling restrictions on movement and business to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
“There’s not a lot of money and we need to have a pro-poor and pro-growth balance,” University of Johannesburg business lecturer Daniel Meyer told AFP.
Increasing taxes wont be an option, however, given the pandemic-induced losses and with local elections due this year.
Unemployment in South Africa soared to a record 32.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the highest since records began in 2008.
Mboweni “will have to take more loans to finance the budget,” Meyer said.
But public debt is already expected to reach over 80 percent of GDP this year.
“Debt… is rising out of control,” Meyer warned, noting that a junk status downgrade last year makes government borrowing even more expensive.
“So (Mboweni) will have to cut the (public) wage bill.”
South Africa is the country hardest-hit by coronavirus in Africa.
Last March, it imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, which has been gradually eased over the past year, but the measures to stem the spread of the virus, including a six-month border closure, blocked tourists and capital from overseas.
The global economic downturn brought on by the virus dried up revenues further, stifling emerging markets and compounding pre-existing problems.
– Poverty ‘on the rise’ –
Ahead of the budget speech, trade unions called a strike to protest the high level of unemployment and persistent corruption.
At Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg’s Soweto township, about 100 members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions picketed at the hospital’s gate in solidarity with overstretched and underpaid medics.
Wearing red shirts and paying little attention to social distancing guidelines, they danced and chanted to apartheid-era struggle songs while brandishing placards saying “It is time to fight back.”
“Employers have taken advantage of the Covid situation to retrench people… the finance minister must wake to the reality that people are loosing jobs,” said 48-year-old City Bokaba, a coordinator for the union.
In Cape Town — where Mboweni will deliver the budget speech — police fired teargas to disperse protesters, stopping them from marching to parliament.
The African continent has seen foreign direct investment decrease by 25 to 40 percent, and remittances drop by nine percent as a result of the pandemic, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
South Africa, which derives at least eight percent of its GDP from mineral exports, has been particularly hard-hit.
“Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an annual address to the nation this month.
Without detailing economic recovery plans, he compared South Africans to fynbos — a local plant species whose growth is stimulated by fires, blossoming directly from the ashes.
“Like all those who have walked this land before us, we will rise again,” an upbeat Ramaphosa said.
He pointed to the potential of job creation through the private sector, citing a recent $1.0 billion investment by US car manufacturer Ford.
The International Monetary Fund meanwhile estimates that South Africa’s economy contracted by eight percent last year, predicting growth of just three percent for 2021.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine fails to prevent mild and moderate cases of the South African coronavirus strain, according to research reported in the Financial Times.
But in its study, due to be published Monday, the pharma group said it could still have an effect on severe disease — although there is not yet enough data to make a definitive judgement.
None of the 2,000 participants in the trial developed serious symptoms, the FT said, but AstraZeneca said the sample size was too small to make a full determination.
“We may not be reducing the total number of cases but there is still protection against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease,” said Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the vaccine with the Oxford Vaccine Group.
It could also be “some time” before they determine its effectiveness for older people in fighting the strain, which is a growing presence in Britain, she told BBC television.
“We might have to put it together from a number of studies,” she said.
Researchers are currently working to update the vaccine, and “have a version with the South African spike sequence in the works” that they would “very much like” to be ready for the autumn, said Gilbert.
UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government’s strategy to combat the spread of the strain was to continue with its mass vaccination programme “as rapidly as possible” as well as “hyper-local surge testing” in areas where it is detected.
Britain is in the midst of a massive vaccination drive, which it sees as its way out of one of the worst outbreaks in the world that has seen more than 112,000 fatalities among those testing positive for the virus.
It has so far vaccinated over 11 million people using either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/Astrazeneca shots.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been the source of an ugly row with the European Union, which is angry that the Anglo-Swedish firm was unable to meet the delivery target agreed with Brussels.
France, Germany and Switzerland are also among countries to recommend the jab not be used in the elderly due to a lack of data.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has “strongly reprimanded” his finance minister for challenging the Zambian leader to explain his decision to sack that country’s central bank governor, the presidency said Monday.
In a surprise move, Zambian President Edgar Lungu on Saturday fired his respected central bank governor. Denny Kalyalya.
No reason was given for the removal of the governor, who had been credited with bringing stability to the economy.
South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni reacted angrily, demanding an explanation.
“Presidents in Africa must stop this nonsense of waking up in the morning and fire a Central Bank Governor! You cannot do that. This is not some fiefdoms of yours! Your personal property?! No!” tweeted Mboweni on Saturday.
“That Governor was a good fella. Why do we do these things as Africans. The President of Zambia must give us the reasons why he dismissed the Governor – or else hell is on its way. I will mobilize!”
On Sunday he wrote that his tweets had landed him in hot water, but vowed to not give up.
“Looks like I am in trouble about my statement on the dismissal of the Bank of Zambia Governor! I stand by my statement. Central Bank independence is key. Not negotiable. Let all central bankers speak out!”
He has since deleted the tweets.
A statement from the South African presidency said Ramaphosa “strongly reprimanded” Mboweni following his comments.
He assured the Zambian government that the minister’s “unfortunate remarks do not reflect the views of the South African government” and the “issue is being addressed to ensure that such an incident does not occur again”.
A former World Bank executive director, Kalyalya’s tenure was due to end in 2023.
He was replaced by a deputy secretary to the cabinet, Christopher Mvunga.
Zambian Information Minister Dora Siliya expressed surprise at Mboweni’s “immature and improper criticism of a sovereign decision by Zambia”.
She urged Mboweni to rather focus on coronavirus “problems facing” South Africa.
At nearly 610,000 cases and over 13,000 deaths, South Africa has recorded the highest numbers of coronavirus infections on the continent, accounting for more than half of Africa’s total tally.
Zambia has recorded 10,831 cases, of which 279 have been fatal.
At least five people were killed and 40 others, including off-duty police officers, were arrested on Saturday after gunmen stormed a South African church, reportedly over a leadership dispute, the national police commissioner said.
According to a statement by South Africa’s top cop, General Khehla John Sitole: “Four people were found shot and burnt to death in a car while a fifth victim, a security guard, was also fatally shot in his car while he was apparently attending this complaint.”
The unusually violent incident took place early Saturday when an armed group stormed the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, on the western outskirts of Johannesburg, “indicating that they were coming to take over the premises,” police said.
The church has had multiple succession-related clashes that have been widely reported by local media since multimillionaire leader and founder Comforter Glayton Modise died in 2016.
Sitole said police responded to reports of “shooting and an alleged hostage situation,” and seized more than 34 firearms including five rifles, 16 other guns and 13 pistols.
“I am certain that the speedy response by the joint security forces has averted what could have been a more severe blood bath”, Sitole said.
More than 40 suspects, including six taken to hospital, were arrested.
They included members of the South African police, the National Defence Force, the Johannesburg Metro Police and the Department of Correctional Services.
However, Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said that the law enforcement officers arrested were worshippers that got caught up in the clashes.
“They were arrested in their capacity as church members, not as officers,” Naidoo told AFP.
The police commissioner said authorities are investigating “the possibility that this attack may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties of the church,” which is used to factional struggles.
Local media reported that in November 2018, a shoot-out between opposing sides wounded three people outside the church headquarters in Zuurbekom.
In 2017, the warring factions went to court over claims that more than R110 million ($6.5 million) was missing from church coffers.
Believed to be South Africa’s second-largest church group, it is estimated to have at least 1.5 million members according to the financial services group Sanlam.
An hour before the gates opened, dozens of uniformed students wearing face masks stood silently in single file outside their schools in the dusty South African township of Tembisa.
“Have you seen how many are waiting to come in?” said Eddie Kekana, the headmaster of Winnie Mandela Secondary School, just north of Johannesburg.
“They have been longing to come to school,” he said.
Students across South Africa returned to classes on Monday after two and a half months of home-schooling to limit the spread of coronavirus.
The education department last week postponed the reopening, originally slated for June 1, to better prepare facilities and train staff.
Schools had been shut since March 19, two weeks after Africa’s most industrialised economy recorded its first coronavirus case and days before President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
As restrictions have been gradually eased, with more movement allowed and economic activity resuming, exam-year students were welcomed back to classes.
“I am very happy but at the same time I am very scared to come back to school,” said 21-year-old Lefa Ramoroka, dressed in the school uniform of grey trousers and an azure blue blazer.
Staff at Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke hospital were swamped last month when hundreds of panicked locals rushed in for testing after South Africa reported its first coronavirus case.
A handful of infections had snowballed to dozens in three days, catching hospitals off guard and exposing a glaring lack of preparedness.
Coronavirus has steadily spread across South Africa over the past two months, with 4,793 cases — the highest in the continent — and 90 deaths.
Almost five weeks of strict lockdown have slowed the increase, buying precious time for hospitals to prepare for an expected surge in infections.
“The lockdown has given us a chance to stock up on PPE (personal protective equipment), organise our wards and make sure our staff has been trained,” said Dr. Feroza Motara, emergency department head at Charlotte Maxeke.
Epidemiologists say imposing the lockdown when cases were relatively few helped to temporarily flatten the curve.
They, however, warn of an exponential increase once restrictions are lifted — a move scheduled to begin gradually from May 1.
“We needed a bit of time to get prepared,” said the government’s chief COVID-19 advisor Salim Abdool Karim. “The key is going to be the extent to which we can prepare hospitals.”
At Charlotte Maxeke, a public facility, suspected patients are now swiftly directed to green tents put up outside and swabbed on the spot by nurses.
– System might not cope –
Karim predicted a peak of infections in July and feared the health system might not cope.
South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said at least 87,000 beds had been freed up for coronavirus patients at public institutions.
Field hospitals are being set up as triage facilities to avoid overburdening emergency rooms.
This week, the minister told parliament that 288 quarantine sites with 23,604 beds would be opened across the country.
“If people are not sick at the same time we can actually go quite a long way with those numbers (of beds),” Mkhize said.
Quarantine sites will mainly host mild or asymptomatic patients who cannot self-isolate — an issue for many dwellers living crammed in townships.
“We have quite a number who are in hospital not really because they are sick but simply because… they cannot self-isolate at home due to social conditions,” said Nosipho Dlamini, who manages Charlotte Maxeke’s emergency nursing staff.
– 80% without health insurance –
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced an additional 20 billion rand ($106 million) to adequately equip hospitals.
“(Coronavirus) can overwhelm even the best-resourced health system within a matter of weeks,” Ramaphosa said. “It is precisely… what we have gone to great lengths to prevent.”
Over 80 percent of South Africa’s 57 million inhabitants have no health insurance and rely on public hospitals.
Public facilities had less than 18 beds per 10,000 insured patients last year, said a report by the South African non-profit Health Systems Trust.
“We had to extend the casualty to the tents outside,” said nurse Dlamini, adding that both the pediatrics and gynaecology casualties had been moved.
Meanwhile, private healthcare providers have also been gearing up.
Anchen Laubscher, director of private hospital chain Netcare, told AFP the group had invested $8 million to “enhance the readiness” of its 1,200 ICUs and $16 million on protective equipment.
– Protecting medics –
Staff at Charlotte Maxeke have relied on a mix of public funding, company and community donations to pull together a decent stock of PPE.
“There have been shortages of PPE around the entire world,” said ICU specialist Abdullah Laher. “It is always a concern for us.”
Keeping staff healthy will be key in South Africa, where hospitals were understaffed even before the pandemic.
Motara’s “big worry” was whether her colleagues would be safe, exhausted or suffer emotional trauma.
“Then of course there is the bigger picture,” she added. “Are we going to have enough PPE? Medication? Ventilators?”
Health expert Mosa Moshabela warned that some hospital workers were not being adequately prepared for the challenge ahead.
“What is really important is that health workers themselves learn to behave differently,” said Moshabela, public health dean at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“We have not taken enough time to teach them the extra skills and practices that will help them prevent infection.”
Nurse Dlamini took matters into her own hands and started weekly training sessions after some staff panicked and stopped coming to work.
Emergency specialist Jana du Plessis is also training and preparing.
“I think we are all worried at this point,” she said, adding: “But we have a job to do. This is what we signed up for.”
South Africa’s police service said it had arrested four of its members for allegedly taking part in illegal liquor trade, undermining a lockdown ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
Several shuttered liquor outlets have been looted since President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a nation-wide lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Police minister Bheki Cele on Sunday said there had been at 16 reports of raids on liquor stores in South Africa’s Western Cape province, home to the southern city of Cape Town, since the lockdown started on March 27.
Cele also “noted with concern the alleged involvement of police members in some of the liquor related crimes”.
Two warrant officers were arrested on Thursday after police received a tip-off and “pounced on the suspects inside the store”, Cele said in a statement.
They were caught “buying liquor that was allegedly going to be resold illegally elsewhere,” he added.
Another two members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) were arrested in northern Mpumalanga province on Friday for using state vehicles to escort three pick-up trucks loaded with alcohol.