SA should be praised, not punished, for discovering Omicron: ...

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SA should be praised, not punished, for discovering Omicron: Ramaphosa

President has particularly bitter words for the African nations that have joined the travel boycott

Presidency reporter
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday departed for Nigeria on a week-long, four-nation visit to West Africa. He will also be visiting Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday departed for Nigeria on a week-long, four-nation visit to West Africa. He will also be visiting Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal.
Image: Amanda Khoza/TimesLIVE

Instead of SA being lauded for alerting the world to the Omicron variant, the country finds itself facing the wrath of the more economically developed countries, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday.

“We reject that in the strongest of terms because, to us, it amounts to discrimination against a country like ours and some counties in Southern Africa. In fact, we should be applauded for having alerted the world to this variant that is now beginning to spread around the world,” he said.

Ramaphosa, who kept the country on adjusted alert level 1 on Sunday after the discovery of the Omicron variant, was speaking before beginning his weeklong four-nation state visit to West Africa, where he will be visiting Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and the Ivory Coast.

“A number of those presidents called to find out if we are still coming and I said yes, we are coming. We’ve rejected this notion that is being propagated by more developed economies and some smaller countries that the Omicron variant is the one that should lead to a blockage and ban on travel,” he said.

Ramaphosa said African counties in the south had proven that they have the  scientific capability to manage the pandemic.

“The least that we expected was to be punished by various countries about what we have disclosed very transparently. Now that to us is most concerning and that is why we have come out in total rejection of this pose on Southern Africa and we are also insisting that these bans must be lifted because you do not try to contain a virus through imposing bans unscientifically and indiscriminately.”

In fact, he said, “we have advanced as a world to a point where we know that every time that people travel they should be tested like I was tested last night, and I am happy to be tested when I arrive again. We have the tools and the means to deal with this.”

The president said the various bans imposed on several African states went against the G20 Rome spirit where the G20 countries agreed that they must open up travel because the tourism industry around the world has been devastated by the pandemic.

“For us the tourism industry is one of the key industries, and for Southern Africa as well. So this is unfair and discriminatory against us and they are imposing a very unfair punishment. We reject it and we call on them to lift it with immediate effect.”

Commenting on other African countries that have followed suit, Ramaphosa said: “I am concerned and of course out of respect to them, I mean they have their reasons, but we would like to have a discussion with them in a way where we would prefer that they do not react like our former colonisers, who are very quick to close Africa down.”

Ramaphosa said he thought it was most unfortunate “that they too have joined in this and we hold the view that it is unscientific and we would have wanted for them to have been much more scientific so that we are able to find solutions”.

On his state visit, which will begin in Nigeria, Ramaphosa, who was accompanied by ministers Gwede Mantashe and Ebrahim Patel, said he was enthused and excited to be embarking on it.

“These are countries that we are hoping to cut deals with and do good diplomatic work on a political level but also commercial and economic work to advance our own interests but also to prosper the integration of our continent at an economic level.”

On what type of deals he was aiming for, Ramaphosa said: “These are deal agreements, memorandums of understanding that cut across a number of areas.”

He said a number of South African companies are in place, including infrastructure, agriculture and trade. “We want to be able to be able to open channels of trade, investment and of course in a number of countries we want to increase confidence in our own companies that are operating in those countries.”

Ramaphosa said it was a mixed journey which included “political, diplomatic, economic, trade and is going to be beneficial to our country all round”.

He said he hopes that the trip, which will be focusing on putting to effect the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement, will be demonstrating that “this should be a live document, an agreement that we should inject life into and remove all those colonial bearers where the north couldn’t trade with the south and where even trade can be opened up, even the trading routes that our forebears used to have in the past and were closed in the past should be reignited”.

Ramaphosa said he views the trip as a way to open up investment into the continent.

“We want those countries to invest in SA so that it is no longer just a one-way process where South African companies invest in their countries.”

SNAPSHOP OF FOUR-NATION TOUR

The visit, which concludes on December 7, aims to reinforce SA’s bilateral relations with the countries and to strengthen partnerships directed at African development and cooperation in multilateral forums.

During the visit SA and the partner states will explore ways to leverage the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area for mutual benefit and with greater support for businesses conducting intra-African trade and investment.

Ramaphosa will be accompanied by a delegation of cabinet ministers and business leaders.

NIGERIA

Until December 1, Ramaphosa will visit Nigeria at the invitation of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The visit will coincide with the 10th session of the Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) and will reflect on progress made in advancing trade and investment between the two countries.

The BNC is the highest structured bilateral mechanism between the countries.

The 10th session will allow the presidents to review progress made in the implementation of decisions and agree on new programmes to be implemented by the respective governments.

It is expected that five new agreements and memorandum of understanding will be concluded by the respective ministers.

IVORY COAST

Ramaphosa will visit Ivory Coast on December 2-3, where he will be hosted by President Alassane Dramane Ouattara.

The visit is significant and historic given that it is the first since diplomatic relations between the countries were established in May 1992.

In the capital, Abidjan, Ramaphosa will address the opening session of the Africa Investment Forum, jointly organised by the Ivory Coast and the African Development Bank, under the theme “Accelerating Transformative Investment in Africa”.

GHANA

Ramaphosa will be in Ghana on December 4-5 where he will be hosted by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo.

The visit will culminate in an inaugural session of the Bi-National Commission.

The bilateral relations between SA and Ghana have grown significantly over the years.

Underlining these strong relations is the elevation of structured bilateral relations from a permanent joint commission for cooperation (PJCC) to a bi-national commission, to be chaired by the heads of state.

SENEGAL

The trip will conclude in Senegal where Ramaphosa will be from December 6-7.

Ramaphosa will on December 6 participate in the Dakar Peace and Security Forum.

On December 7, Ramaphosa will engage in an official visit programme between SA and Senegal.

SA and Senegal already enjoy cordial bilateral political, economic and social relations underpinned by strong historical ties dating back to the years of the liberation struggle.

A number of agreements will be signed , including one to elevate the joint commission for bilateral cooperation from ministerial to presidential level. This will allow for the further consolidation of ties between the two countries.

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