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President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised that government was working to “ensure that the Covid-19 vaccine is available to every person in the country” – although he did not provide any time frames on this.

Ramaphosa said in his virtual Human Rights Day address on Sunday that “unity” and “the strong culture of human rights in our country” largely contributed to South Africans being able to weather the coronavirus storm.

He noted that the Human Rights Day commemoration came almost a year since the pandemic led to a state of disaster being declared.

Epidemiologists had, earlier this month, expressed doubt whether South Africa would be able to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 67% of its population, or around 40 million people, by year-end.

The rollout has been slow and a vaccination calculator, developed by local data journalists, showed that it would take more than 18 years to achieve that target at the current rate of vaccinations.

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Ramaphosa said South Africans had issues with each other, but they had more in common, and shared a common goal: to defeat the pandemic.

He said, like the heroes who protested at Sharpeville on 21 March 1960 for freedom and human rights – did it for everyone in the country.

He said: “In the same way, the struggles we wage today are not for our cause alone. They are also for the men, women and children of tomorrow, so that they too may live in security, comfort, peace and freedom.”

He said South Africa had come a long way from being a society that cared only for a few at the expense of the majority, as government, in partnership with social partners and civil society, worked to realise human rights for all.

“Through the provision of care to the sick and social support to the vulnerable, we have worked together to give effect to the most important rights of our people,” he said, “the right to life, to health and to dignity”.

He also said government had implemented “social and income support measures to support struggling households, workers and businesses” in recognition of the impact the pandemic had on people’s ability to earn a living.

Ramaphosa also said South Africans should work towards establishing a country that was even better than before, and to build an economy “that promises equal opportunity for all”.

He said the struggle to get through the pandemic was “far greater than ourselves” and went beyond just securing one’s own job and health and safety.

“It is a fight to preserve our common humanity,” he said, and this would involve working together as government, labour, business or communities.

He said: “We must rebuild a society that is far better than the one that came before it.”

Ramaphosa also said there should be “equal opportunity for all, regardless of one’s race, sex, sexual orientation or whether one is able bodied or a person with disabilities”.

DA leader John Steenhuisen, however, said government’s failure to procure Covid-19 vaccines thus far, and its failure to put in place a rollout programme “has been the ANC government’s single worst failure in the 27 years of our democracy”.

He said this was a violation of the rights of South Africans to healthcare services. The party has launched a “vaccine tracker” to “monitor South Africa’s vaccine procurement and nationwide rollout”, he said.

Steenhuisen also said the rights of South Africans had been “eroded” under lockdown, and mentioned the police brutality at the start of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown last year as an example.

In the first 40 days, there were 589 complaints of assault filed against the police with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, with 32 South Africans dying at the hands of police.

He also questioned the constitutionality of the Disaster Management Act, which enabled government to curtail people’s rights to earn a living, to move around freely and go to school.

Steenhuisen said South Africans had “very little to celebrate” on this Human Rights Day.

The Economic Freedom Fighters said they preferred to commemorate the day as Sharpeville Massacre Day, as people’s lives have not changed materially since 1994.

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