Showdown over mandatory Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa

 ·6 Dec 2021

The issue of mandatory vaccinations is coming to head in South Africa as government, businesses and civil society groups square up around the issue of compulsory jabs.

In a national address on 28 November, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that government plans to introduce mandatory vaccinations for certain activities. The government has set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.

“The task team will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccination chaired by the deputy president, which will make recommendations to Cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates,” the president said in his address.

While these mandates are only expected to be introduced in early 2022, a number of businesses have already taken steps to introduce mandatory vaccination policies – most recently Standard Bank and telecommunications group MTN.

By comparison, civil rights groups – including Afriforum and Sakeliga – have threatened legal action if the government moves ahead on its plans to introduce vaccine mandates.

Legal challenge 

Afriforum said it will oppose the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination mandates in South Africa, citing Constitutional issues. The group said vaccine mandates are unjustifiable violations of personal freedoms and that it will oppose vaccine mandates if implemented by the government.

It further cited a February 2021 address by Ramaphosa in which he stated that no one would be forced to take a Covid-19 vaccination in South Africa.

“On the basis of the principle of freedom of choice and constitutional right to bodily autonomy, if the government implements vaccine mandates, AfriForum will take the necessary steps to oppose them,” said Ernst Roets, head of Policy and Action at AfriForum.

Roets said that allowing the policy would open the door for the state to introduce further restrictions in the future.

“State coercion is and remains dangerous, regardless of its subject matter, and we should not be giving the government consent to use it in an increasingly expanded array of situations. Vaccine mandates are unjustifiable in a free society,” he said.

Consultation needed

This weekend, lawyers acting for business group Sakeliga and four other business organisations sent a letter regarding the issue of mandatory vaccination to the Presidency.

Business organisations represented by the letter include Agri North West, the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), SAAI, Sakeliga, and TLU SA.

“Our clients are opposed to state-driven mandatory vaccination policies and monitoring mechanisms such as vaccine passports, penalisation and exclusion of unvaccinated persons, and regulatory obligations on business to aid and enforce mandatory measures,” the letter states.

“We bring to your attention that our clients have not been consulted and that any process which purports to have done so, is flawed. It is, therefore, our clients’ request that government include our clients in its consultation process in order to ensure that all perspectives are recognised and considered.”

Sakeliga said it is in favour of voluntary vaccination campaigns, an end to lockdown policies, and a decentralised approach to risk management and healthcare according to the specific circumstances of organisations, companies, and persons.

Read: MTN introduces mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policy

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