Cyril Ramaphosa assured the nation that Treasury will have the money to pay for vaccines, during rare interviews with the media on Friday at the ANC’s Luthuli House in Johannesburg.
In his capacity as ANC president, Ramaphosa spoke to EWN and PowerFM about the Covid-19 pandemic, the vaccine rollout, corruption in the ANC and the battered economy.
He acknowledged that “people want the vaccine, yesterday” amid growing frustration about delays. And he reiterated that South Africa was procuring vaccines from three different sources: Covax, the African Union facility and directly with suppliers.
Ramaphosa said Treasury would make funds available to pay for vaccine procurement from individual suppliers. “There cannot ever be any talk to say we don’t have any money for vaccines to save the lives of our people. Treasury is going to ensure that money is there.”
He said South Africa will have to pay for the vaccines it gets through Covax, the initiative set up to help lower-income countries acquire vaccines.
So far, the state has secured 20 million vaccine doses, which will be delivered in the first half of 2021. The AU, through the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC), has also secured an initial 270 million vaccine doses for the continent. These AU vaccines will be allocated to countries based on population size.
“The 270 million will work on the size of the population based on the herd immunity formula that 67% will be herd immunity,” said Ramaphosa, who is also AU chairperson.
The Afreximbank will pay for the continent’s vaccines, which countries will repay over five to seven years.
On concerns about potential vaccine corruption, after the looting of food parcels and PPE, Ramaphosa responded: “I thought we had put in measures from a Treasury point of view, from an auditor-general point of view… but I think when you deal with crooked people they find all manner of loopholes in which they are able to crook the system”.
He said the government had learnt many lessons and would try to avoid mistakes of the past.
Ramaphosa has been under mounting pressure to engage with the media.
The president spoke to Lukhona Mnguni from PowerFM, as well as Clement Manyathela from Radio 702 and his colleague Tshidi Madia from Eyewitness News.
On political party funding, Ramaphosa said discussions are necessary about how campaigning is done in the ANC and how funds are utilised. The party has failed to be transparent on private political donations and pressure is mounting on the president to implement the Political Party Funding Act of 2018.
“I’ve also proposed that once a campaign is finished, there should be full accountability, also in as far as accounting for every rand and cent that was utilised through proper audits.”
On the integrity commission’s recommendation that party secretary-general Ace Magashule step aside due to corruption charges, Ramaphosa said the recommendation was being “dealt with” by the ANC national executive committee. A resolution from the party’s 54th conference said that cadres accused, or involved in corruption, who fail to give an acceptable explanation should step down while facing disciplinary action.
Ramaphosa tackled youth issues and said the ANC Youth League was integral to restoring unity within the fractured party. He said plans are in motion to organise a virtual conference for the youth league this year. Regarding the National Youth Development Agency whose board has been vacant for close to two years, Ramaphosa said he wants the matter resolved by March 2021.
He denied avoiding the media.
“It’s not that I don’t want to do it; I think that what my office should do is just find space in my diary so that we can have this engagement.”
When asked about having engagements after “family meetings” Ramaphosa agreed that a question and answer session should be allowed.
Besides the occasional “family meetings” to update the nation on the pandemic, Ramaphosa has been elusive. He’s failed to hold press briefings or participate in sit-down interviews though last year he had public live engagements with the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), where he promised greater accountability. After an “engagement” with Sanef in May 2020, where he did not take questions, he hosted a 90-minute live broadcast Q& A with Sanef members and invited media representatives in September.
In an open letter to the president this week, political reporter Qaanitah Hunter expressed disappointment in Ramaphosa. “Mr President, this is a chance for you to start over. Engage with the Fourth Estate and be open to probing questions, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. You have to be held culpable, no matter how well-intended a leader you may be.”
Hunter said concerns raised during Sanef’s engagements with Ramaphosa that space was not given for journalists to ask questions after his addresses and ministerial briefings were “not sufficient”. DM
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