Johannesburg, 14 July 2021, The Women’s Voice and Leadership South Africa (WVLSA) project condemns the violence and criminal looting that is ravaging South Africa amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. WVLSA calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that law and order are restored and that the vaccine roll-out crucial for defending women’s hard earned rights is resumed as a matter of urgency.

WVL is a fund created and funded by Global Affairs Canada as part of its feminist foreign assistance policy. In South Africa, where the fund is managed by Gender Links, WVL brings together 51 Women’s Rights Organisations (WRO) across the country, especially in Gauteng, Kwa Zulu Natal, the Western Cape and Limpopo provinces.

“There can be no justification for a breakdown of the rule of law on account of a Constitutional Court ruling to jail a former president for contempt of court,” noted Colleen Lowe Morna, Special Adviser to Gender Links. “The fact that this violence is jeopardising vaccine roll out – the only real hope for emerging from the COVID-19 crisis which has a disproportionate effect on women– makes such behaviour particularly painful and unacceptable.”

WVLSA, a member of the Peoples Vaccine Alliance, has initiated a #VaccineGenderJustice campaign. The coalition of WRO “calls on the government to ensure that the vaccine roll out is fair, equitable and does not discriminate against any segment of society, including women living in rural areas; People Living with Disability; sex workers, migrants, and the LGTIQ community,” said Grants Manager Tinashe Chipwanya.

The mindless and ongoing violence following the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma on 9 July has led to vaccine sites bolting their doors just days after the acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced that the country would be accelerating the rollout to include weekends. On 9 July Kubayi-Ngubane announced that eligible age groups would be extended from 50 and over to 35 to 49 year-olds from mid-July, with the rollout set to begin in August.

In his address to the nation on 11 July extending Level Four COVID-19 lock down by another two weeks, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that requirements to register online and present identification for vaccinations would be waived to accelerate roll out.

To date, despite procuring enough vaccinations to service all 60 million South Africans, the country has vaccinated less than one percent of its population. This stands in stark contrast to the billions of rands syphoned out of the country in countless corruption cases during Zuma’s presidency, not to mention the costly investigation into these cases.

Women constitute the majority of those infected and affected by COVID-19 – as health workers, care givers, informal traders and those who have suffered the highest rates of unemployment and gender violence under lock down. In 2020, the Rapid Response window of WVL pivoted to focus on urgent threats to women’s rights as result of the pandemic. In 2021, the fund is focusing on equitable access, public education and awareness on vaccine roll out. Eleven grantees are conducting door to door campaigns in far flung rural areas to ensure equitable access.

These are the MT Foundation, Free State; Coastal Resources Centre, Eastern Cape; Sinqobile Kingdom Empowerment, Mpumalanga; Community Carers Agency and Voice for the Voiceless, Western Cape; KwaZulu Development and Business Information Centre and Trans Hope (Kwa Zulu Natal); Lithsani Vhana-De Foundation, Mara Victim Empowerment Centre, Limpopo; Mankweng Community Law Advice office, Limpopo and the Dorcas Page Foundation, Gauteng.

Their work includes dispelling myths around taking vaccinations; lobbying to ensure that documentation required will not prevent women, especially migrants and refugees; sex workers and gender non- conforming people does not prevent them from being vaccinated; upskilling community workers and including them in healthcare campaigns, and ensuring the safety of all those seeking health services.

WVL-SA calls on the government to generate and share sex disaggregated data on the vaccine roll out, ensure that there is a constant supply of the vaccines, prioritise care givers such as civil society workers, care givers and people with chronic illnesses and to also ensure that this reaches the most marginalised communities, especially migrant women and women living in rural areas,” said WVL Grants Coordinator Nomthandazo Mankazana Mokoa.

Speaking at a cyber dialogue on feminist perspectives of vaccine roll out convened by WVL-SA last month, Deputy minister Department of Women, Youth and Disabilities in the Presidency, acknowledged the slow roll out but said: “What is critical is that our people must take up the opportunity to be vaccinated.” She said vaccine hesitancy is highest among youth aged 18-25 years. This is critical for the next phase of the vaccine roll out, especially as new variants are more predominant among the youth.

Maaza Seyoum from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance called on all civil society organisations to join the campaign for ending “vaccine apartheid.” Susan Tolmay, one of the authors of this year’s #VoiceandChoice Barometer, noted that only 7% of the world’s population have been fully vaccinated. This varies from 45% in the US and UK to less than one per percent in middle to low-income countries including South Africa.

“Global vaccine apartheid is real,” Lowe-Morna said. “South Africa, which should understand apartheid better than any country in the world, is unique in having procured all the vaccines it needs to fight back this deadly pandemic. It is the roll out programme that needs a shot in the arm – literally and figuratively,” she added.

Read more:

For more information, please contact the Grants coordinator, Nomthandazo Mankazana on 073 920 2165 or 082 560 0066. Presentations on feminist perspectives on the vaccine rollout can be accessed on the community of practice forum.