13 Jun 2021

Cyril Ramaphosa: ‘Action needed now on vaccines for Africa’

South Africa’s president has said vaccines are “desperately needed now” as the country faces a third wave of coronavirus.

In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the only African head of state at the G7 summit in Cornwall, said “much more” was needed from G7 leaders to tackle coronavirus.

Mr Ramaphosa said: “In South Africa, we are already going into our third wave and we are facing more and more infections and deaths and the only shield and defence that we all have is vaccines.

“We need them desperately. Not tomorrow, not today, but yesterday.”

Leaders at the three-day meeting of representatives from the world’s major democratic industrial nations pledged to provide one billion vaccine doses to the “world’s poorest countries”.

Intellectual property rights

Mr Ramaphosa welcomed the G7’s pledge as “a good start”, but warned that it was not enough.

He said: “I think it is dawning on G7 countries and a number of other institutions that in the end they are not safe until we are all safe, and to do so we have got to do much more than what they have promised to do.”

The South African president also called for a waiver of a multilateral agreement which prevents patents from being copied illegally.

He believes waiving Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS, would allow more vaccines to be manufactured across the world.

‘Special leave’

Asked why G7 nations should invest in healthcare schemes in countries that are associated with “corruption”, Mr Ramphosa said: “The G7 country leaders know what we are doing. They know that one of our key priorities as a country is to fight corruption. And to ensure that there is zero corruption.

“We are winning. I mean, we’ve instituted a commission of inquiry that is unravelling all the wrong things that were done in the past with a view of making sure that they never happen again.”

South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been put on “special leave” after allegations that his department irregularly awarded Covid-related contracts to a communications company controlled by his former associates.

Mr Ramaphosa said: “I’ve put him on a special leave and I am busy with the matter on an ongoing basis. By the end of the month or so, we should get the report and will be able to deal with the matter.”

Climate change

The G7 nations also renewed their pledge to raise $100 billion a year to help poor countries cut emissions and promised to help them move away from coal at the summit in Cornwall.

Developed countries previously agreed in 2009 to contribute $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer nations by 2020.

Mr Ramaphosa said: “It is true that the bigger and more advanced economy countries have not met the pledges that they have made in the past.”

Asked about the number of coal-fired power stations that South Africa has, Mr Ramaphosa said: “We are making our own commitments that we are going to reduce fossil fuel emissions. And that is a commitment that we are making seriously.”

‘Build back better’

The mantra “build back better” was used in the communique agreed by G7 leaders to express their commitment to all nations recovering from the economic damage caused by Covid-19.

Mr Ramaphosa said many developing nations are “drowning in debt” and “drowning in low economic growth”.

He added: “Therefore, building back better must mean that we all lift all the boats in the world.”

Reporter: Jonathan Rugman.