Ramaphosa’s vaccine strategy: Empty promises, deceit, deflection

John Steenhuisen says govt has yet to provide a single vaccine outside of trials


There are signs that South Africa may be heading into a third wave. Infections are on the rise.

Had President Ramaphosa acted on vaccines with a sense of urgency when other countries were getting into the queue in early 2020, we’d be approaching this third wave with our high-risk group vaccinated.

Instead, we’re heading in unprotected and “phenomenally vulnerable”, with stricter lockdown levels looming. And all Ramaphosa can offer the nation is empty promises and blame-shifting to hide his poor performance.

In his address on 11 January 2021, Ramaphosa reassured the nation we would reach herd immunity by year-end, saying: “South Africa’s vaccine strategy is well underway.”

Yet four months later, not a single vaccine has been administered in South Africa outside of trials and the target for herd immunity has now been shifted out to February 2022.

Our peer countries are far ahead of us. While Chile has managed to vaccinate over a third of its population and Israel over half, South Africa has only managed to vaccinate 0,7% - and this within trials run by trial scientists.

In terms of vaccines administered, South Africa is coming 33rd in Africa, behind the likes of such failing states as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Angola, Somalia, Gambia and Zimbabwe.

Our unforgivably slow progress means it is extremely unlikely we will get significant numbers of high-risk individuals vaccinated before the third wave is fully established.

Let’s be clear. The Ramaphosa administration is directly to blame for many of the recent and future Covid deaths. They have failed dismally to protect South Africans.

Instead of vaccines in arms or sincere apologies, Ramaphosa has produced meaningless reassurances and deceitful excuses that deflect blame for his monumental, unforgivable vaccine failure.

Vacuous commitments

The government’s new target of vaccinating 40 million people by end February 2022 is not realistically achievable and Ramaphosa knows it. When I challenged him on this in Parliament last week, he exposed his target for the lie it is.

Only 380 000 South Africans have been vaccinated so far. To reach the target of 40 million people vaccinated by end February 2022, we’ll have to administer 380 000 doses every two days without missing a single day. This is a higher rate than top performers Israel or Chile have managed.

Consider that on Sunday, not a single dose was delivered.

Consider that his government has still not published a detailed, implementable rollout plan.

Ramaphosa’s assurance of herd immunity by Feb 2022 is as insincere as his reassurance was back in 2015 when he said: “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.”

He has simply lost all credibility, at a time when public trust in government is critical to a speedy vaccine rollout.

Deceit and deflection

In his newsletter this week, Ramaphosa attempts to shift blame to richer countries, accusing them of practicing “vaccine apartheid” by vaccinating their own populations first rather than sharing their vaccines with other countries.

With one catchy phrase he attempts to erase the evidence of his own failure to get into the queue for vaccines back in early 2020 when other countries were doing so. Recall that his administration:

• twice failed to pay the Covax deposits on time.

• delayed initiating discussions with manufacturers and cancelled the meeting when Johnson & Johnson reached out to them in August 2020.

• was unresponsive for months and months when Pfizer tried to initiate discussions.

• squandered the opportunity to protect 500 000 high-risk individuals by selling 1 million AstraZeneca vaccines to other African counties against the advice of the World Health Organisation and leading scientists. (Their reason for selling them was that the AZ vaccine is not effective against the dominant SA variant. Yet they are now going ahead with purchasing Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines, neither of which have shown efficacy against the dominant SA variant.)

If anyone is practicing “vaccine apartheid” it is Ramaphosa himself, who has failed to provide lifesaving vaccines to millions of high-risk South Africans, just as the Mbeki government failed to provide lifesaving ARVs.

Is Ramaphosa planning to share the 60 million doses we have secured with poorer countries? If not, his accusation smacks of cynical hypocrisy.

His focus now on getting the World Trade Organisation to waive intellectual property (IP) rights for the production of Covid vaccines is another red herring intended to deflect blame for his poor performance. A waiver will make no difference to South Africa’s ability to save lives in the third wave or to reach herd immunity.

No company will invest for a once-in-a-generation windfall, and with a glut in supply imminent. Especially not in a country as hostile to investors as is South Africa.

The main challenge facing South Africa is no longer vaccine supply, but a speedy vaccine rollout to high-risk individuals. We need the public and private health sectors working together, with doctors, pharmacies, clinics and mass vaccination centres running at full speed. This is where Ramaphosa should be focusing his attention.

Instead, when he isn’t focused on internal ANC matters, he’s focused on red herrings such as “vaccine apartheid” and IP waivers that will make no material difference to the urgent matter at hand of getting jabs to high-risk individuals. Because his government simply cannot deliver.

His appearance before the Zondo Commission has laid bare that he is deeply complicit in the hollowing out of our state, through the policies of cadre deployment and BEE, to a point where it is completely unable to deliver on the most basic of its responsibilities, a speedy vaccine rollout to save lives and jobs.

DA-run Western Cape

The DA-run Western Cape is on track for an efficient vaccine rollout and is only constrained by the supply of doses from national government. The DA difference in the Western Cape is that appointments and tenders are based on ability to deliver to people. This is the only way to build a caring, capable, professional state.


Ramaphosa’s vaccine strategy of delivering empty promises, deceit and deflection is indeed well underway. If South Africans want a caring, honest, capable government that delivers on its commitments, they can begin by voting the DA into local government in the upcoming municipal elections on 27 October 2021.

Warm regards,

John Steenhuisen

DA Leader