The South African military has amended its dress policy to allow Muslim women to wear headscarves as part of their uniform, an army spokesperson said on Thursday.
In January last year, a military court dropped charges against an officer who had been indicted for wearing a hijab under her military beret.
Major Fatima Isaacs had been criminally charged in June 2018 with willful defiance and failing to obey lawful instructions after her superior asked her to remove her headscarf when in uniform.
A military court at the Castle of Good Hope near Cape Town withdrew all charges in January 2020, making an exception for Isaacs to wear a tight black wrap on her head on duty as long as it did not cover her ears.
But the military did not amend its dress policy, prompting Isaacs to mount a challenge in South Africa’s equality court over regulations restricting religious wear.
The South African Defence Force (SANDF) eventually agreed to amend its policy this week and allow all Muslim women to cover their heads while on duty.
“The SANDF dress regulation was updated to allow the wearing of headscarves by Muslim (women) according to stipulations in the dress regulations,” spokesman Mafi Mgobozi told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
The South Africa-based Legal Resources Centre, which represented Isaacs, welcomed the decision via Twitter on Wednesday and said it was withdrawing the equality court case.
South African based telco operator MTN has donated US$25 million, Ksh.2.8 billion to the African Union (AU) to support regional COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The firm which has further entered a private-public partnership with the continent body says the donation will help secure up to seven million doses of the vaccine for health workers.
“The devastating impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and profound. Public and private partnerships are needed if we are to succeed in the fight against the pandemic and restore social and economic norms for our continent and our communities,” said Ralph Mupita, President and Chief Executive Officer of the MTN Group.
The donation is part of the continent’s private sector contribution towards the access and distribution of the pandemic’s remedy.
“We believe ongoing collaborations with key stakeholders across sectors are essential as vaccines are deployed,” added Mupita.
So far, the African Union has secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses on behalf of its member states through advanced procurement commitment guarantees of up to Ksh.220 billion ($2 billion) to manufacturers by the African Export-Import Bank (AFREXIM)
South Africa‘s top court on Thursday ordered ex-president Jacob Zuma to appear before a judicial panel probing alleged graft during his nine-year tenure, ruling he had no right to remain silent during the proceedings.
Zuma is accused of enabling runaway looting of state assets during his time in office, which ended when he was forced out in February 2018.
The 78-year-old former leader has snubbed summonses by the commission, which is chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
He first said the commission was treating him as an “accused” rather than a witness and then contended bias and demanded that Zondo recuse himself.
He only gave testimony to the commission once, in July 2019, but staged a walkout days later. Since then, Zuma has not testified again, citing health concerns or his preparation for another corruption case related to a 1990s arms deal.
In a case filed by the commission, the Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled Zuma’s action amounted to “a direct breach of the law” and that he had to appear and testify before the panel on the dates set by it.
“In our system, no-one is above the law… Jacob Zuma does not have rights to remain silent in proceeding before the commission,” ruled Justice Chris Jafta.
Jafta said the commission was set up in 2018 during Zuma’s presidency and it was, therefore “unacceptable that he is the one that frustrates its investigation.”
He added that Zuma was entitled to privileges against self-incrimination and had to demonstrate “how the answer to a specific question would breach the privilege.”
The findings of the anti-corruption commission will not lead directly to indictments but may be transmitted to the prosecution for possible prosecution.
The commission was originally scheduled to sit until March but must request an extension due to the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has already heard from dozens of ministers or ex-ministers, elected officials, businessmen, or senior officials of whom some have indirectly implicated Zuma.
In the latest summons, Zuma had been called to testify from January 18-22 and again from February 15-19.
Mthembu was one of the government’s key leaders in its response to the pandemic and the public face during many Covid-19 press briefings.
“It is with deep sorrow and shock that we announce that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu passed away earlier today from COVID-related complications. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss,” President Ramaphosa tweeted.
“Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist, and a life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss,” Ramaphosa added.
On January 11 Mthembu tweeted that he had contracted Covid-19. “Today I visited the Military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for abdominal pain. After undergoing some tests, I tested positive for Covid-19,” he said.
Mthembu then thanked the South Africans who wished him a speedy recovery and said the country “must overcome Covid-19.”
John Steenhuisen, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, which is the opposition party in South Africa, said he was “devastated” to learn about the minister’s passing.
“Was such an honour to serve alongside this truly South African patriot. Condolences to his family and friends and the colleagues in his party,” he said in a tweet.
As of Wednesday South Africa’s Department of Health reported 1,369,426 cases of Covid-19 and 38,854 deaths.
Ramaphosa extended coronavirus restrictions in the country on January 11, citing a “massive increase” in Covid-19 cases driven by a variant discovered there last year.
In addition to extending the existing measures, Ramaphosa announced that 20 land borders will be closed until February 15.
Mthembu was an anti-apartheid activist who first became involved in politics in the 1970s.
He was harassed and intimidated by the apartheid police and during the Bethal terrorism trial was charged with sabotage, treason, and terrorism, but was acquitted, according to the South African presidency website.
Under President Nelson Mandela, he was the ANC party spokesperson from 1995-1997 and again from 2009-2014.
South Africa’s president said Tuesday that his country is determined to overcome the novel coronavirus by rolling out mass COVID-19 vaccination programs.
“In the coming weeks and months, we will begin a mass vaccination program that is expected to significantly reduce infections as it reaches more and more of our people,” Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address during the funeral of King Thulare Victor Thulare III of South Africa’s Bapedi kingdom, who died this month.
Ramaphosa said the government will use every means available to it to save lives and protect livelihoods.
“We must become even more diligent in observing the various health measures, avoiding closed spaces, crowded places, and unnecessary contact with others,” he said in a eulogy for the late king.
On a separate occasion last week, Ramaphosa also promised that the government would deliver a mass COVID-19 vaccination program that will reach all 60 million South Africans.
He made the pledge while delivering the ruling African National Congress’s annual Jan. 8 statement which marked the 109th anniversary of the party’s formation.
Ramaphosa said the effects of the pandemic have placed many businesses under stress, including mines, resulting in job losses.
“We will also increase our efforts to rebuild our economy, restoring the jobs that have been lost and providing support to struggling households,” he pledged.
South Africa has the highest number of infections and deaths on the continent. The country has 1,346,936 confirmed cases and 37,449 deaths recorded countrywide.
Africa’s most developed economy is the 15th most-affected country globally. Ramaphosa said the second wave of the pandemic that the country is currently experiencing is much worse than the initial outbreak.
“Many more people are becoming infected and more people are needing medical care. In many parts of the country, our hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed and our health care workers are under severe strain,” he said.
South Africa’s health services are buckling under the strain of soaring COVID-19 infections driven partly by a new variant of coronavirus spreading across the country.
Medical professionals warn that the “relentless” infection wave that has seen more than 130,000 new COVID-19 cases and 4,000 related deaths in the last week alone threatens to overrun both public and private hospitals.
“As soon as beds open, there are more than 10 people waiting to fill them – we cannot cope,” a medical officer working at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg told Al Jazeera.
“This has been relentless and far worse than the first wave of infections.”
The new variant, referred to as 501.V2, has been found in all of the country’s nine provinces, as well as beyond the country’s borders, leading several countries to ban flights from South Africa.
The variant has been associated with a higher viral load, leading some scientists to believe it is more transmissible and possibly a major contributing factor in the surge in infections.
Others, however, urge caution as more studies are being carried out, with some officials blaming the current surge in infections on a lack of adherence to coronavirus containment measures and “superspreader” events during the festive period.
In late December, the government placed the country under “level three” lockdown restrictions – banning alcohol sales again and re-enacting an overnight curfew – in an attempt to stave off infections.
Public gatherings were also discouraged, funerals limited to no more than 50 people and the reopening of schools this month was pushed back to mid-February.
Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced earlier this week the closure of all of South Africa’s 20 land entry points, in a move prompted by the formation of snaking, kilometres-long queues at the country’s borders as migrants attempted to return from neighbouring countries after visiting their home countries during the festive period.
“This [congestion] has exposed many people to infection as they wait to be processed, and it has been difficult to ensure that the health requirements for entry into South Africa are met. Many people are arriving without proof of COVID-19 tests,” Ramaphosa said on January 11.
The borders will remain shut until mid-February, with only those transporting cargo, diplomats, returning South African nationals, permanent residents, and foreigners with a valid visa allowed to pass. All hoping to cross are required to show a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of arrival at the border.
“People are unable to seek care or even access sanitation and water because they’re stuck in long unmoving lines and may exacerbate the risks of creating superspreader events for COVID-19,” Vinayak Bhardwaj of Doctors Without Borders told Al Jazeera.
South Africa’s Home Affairs department has sent extra personnel to the country’s busiest land ports to alleviate congestion, while authorities have arrested hundreds of people who entered the country from neighbouring Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, and Lesotho by scaling fences and crossing rivers, as well as forging fake travel documents and PCR tests.
Amir Sheikh, of the African Diaspora Forum, described the ban as “disastrous”.
“People are making their way back to their homes by whatever means necessary,” he told Al Jazeera. “Just because they are not South African does not mean their lives are not here. Some people disallowed access have called this country home for decades.”
The curbs came as the economic effects of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns – with large swaths of the economy shuttered for most of 2020 – have begun to be felt. More than 2.2 million jobs were shed during the second quarter of the year alone, with the South African Reserve Bank projecting a 6.1 percent drop in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.
Meanwhile, after the government was engulfed in corruption scandals emanating from distribution of personal protective equipment and food parcels during the initial stages of the pandemic, discontent is now also fomenting over South Africa’s plans to procure and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
The government is aiming to inoculate two-thirds of South Africa’s 59 million population within the next 18 months, but some medical experts say the goal is unrealistic due to the country’s already overstretched resources and apparent tardiness in securing an adequate supply of vaccine doses.
An initial 1.5 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine have been earmarked for frontline healthcare workers and are expected to arrive from India as early as February.
The government has also announced that 20 million vaccine doses will arrive in South Africa during the course of 2021 but details over their sourcing and cost remain elusive, sparking criticism from scientists, civil society, and opposition parties that authorities have been slow off the mark in the global race for inoculations.
“Vaccines may be ready for deployment after months of rapid research around the globe. But if South Africa is unable to acquire enough vaccines, it leaves the country with an uncertain future as to how the coronavirus crisis will come to an end,” said Dr. Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
In total, South Africa has registered more than 1.3 million coronavirus infections and at least 36,851 related deaths. However, these are only the confirmed figures. Government-released statistics at the beginning of January showed a spike of almost 20,000 fatalities in December year-on-year, with 55,676 deaths logged last month compared with 38,620 a year earlier.