A firm believer in strong and effective multilateralism, with the United Nations (UN) at the forefront, Nelson Mandela would have pushed for equitable, secure, and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all, says International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor.
Pandor on Wednesday delivered the keynote address at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly to mark the Nelson Mandela International Day.
According to the Minister, the former Statesman would have been gravely concerned that Africa, the second-most populous continent, with over 1.3 billion people, was at the back of the queue in terms of accessing lifesaving vaccines.
“This is while the richest countries are well advanced in vaccinating their people, while at the same time, hoarding vast reserves of doses of vaccines, even as they deny developing countries the capacity to produce vaccines.
“This is the type of injustice that would have been intolerable to President Mandela. We owe it to his legacy to vigorously demand and achieve universal access to vaccines now,” she said.
The Minister said she hopes that the member States of the UN will support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s urgent call to end vaccine nationalism, as an expression of Mandela’s values.
“He would most certainly urge us as humanity to rise together in solidarity to save the lives of all, everywhere, because none of us are safe until all [of us] are safe,” she said.
She believes that Mandela would have been at the frontline of the campaign of the African Union for a temporary waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Impact of the pandemic
Citing the latest data, Pandor said the impact of the pandemic shows that developing countries have lost at least two decades of development.
“Literally, for many developing countries they are at ground zero, if not back to where they were towards the end of the last century and millennium, with respect to the Millennium Development Goals.”
She reminded delegates that the issue of poverty eradication was uppermost in Mandela’s concerns.
“In his words, he urged us to address this, because as he said: ‘As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest’.”
The Minister has since called on the UN to commit and spare no effort in ensuring that the progress lost in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly concerning food security, is recovered.
“Our interdependence as economies means that we either come out of the pandemic by building back better together, or we scramble individually in a survival of the fittest mode to the detriment of sustained and inclusive global growth, which is necessary for the eradication of poverty and hunger, our ambition.”
Pandor rallied delegates to work together to respond to COVID-19, and to also redouble efforts to combat systemic racism globally, which she believes severely complicated the response to the pandemic.
“The victims of systemic racism have been hit hard by COVID-19, with a heavy burden imposed by loss of lives that could have been saved. We urgently need collective action based on agreed outcomes.”
In addition, she said systemic racism has had a pernicious effect on many communities and compounded the impact of the pandemic on its victims.
“In addressing the issue of security and predictability of the supply of vaccines, at the core of which is the waiver we demand, addressing racism is also critical.”
Pandor asked the UN to embrace the spirit of Ubuntu, which means, “I am because you are”.
“It speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others.”–SAnews