South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and so does the right to be vaccinated against Covid-19

Published: 10/Feb/2021
Source: Daily Maverick (South Africa)

In an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Lawyers for Human Rights calls on him to denounce xenophobia to halt the cycle of exclusion of and discrimination against asylum seekers, migrants and undocumented persons.

By Tshegofatso Mothapo

Dear President Ramaphosa,

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) welcomes the commitment you made in your address on 1 February 2021 to make the Covid-19 vaccine available “to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status”.

We take specific note of your pledge to put in place “measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history”. With public health professionals the world over, you have acknowledged that “it is in the best interests of all that as many of us receive the vaccine as possible”.

We raise our fists and say “Amandla!”

LHR, as one of the largest public interest legal organisations in the country, is part of the movement for social justice. Increasingly this means struggling side by side with our clients for the eradication of xenophobia in South Africa. We ask you now to stand with us, and with our refugee and migrant clients and partners, against this ugly phenomenon that has only seemed to grow in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. We ask you to denounce it through action: by ensuring widespread, equitable access to Covid-19 protection.

LHR is extremely concerned about the proposal led by the Department of Health to use documentation as a form of registration to get access to the vaccine. This will unjustly exclude some of the most vulnerable in our society, both citizens and non-citizens. As you know, inequality and discrimination have resulted in the working class being disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Mr President, as of December 2020 the Department of Home Affairs had 813,343 cases of blocked identity documents. They were blocked without notice, without communicated reasons, without an opportunity to challenge these actions, and are nearly impossible to resolve. Without valid identity documents, parents cannot register the births of their children and the cycle of being undocumented continues, resulting in intergenerational statelessness and intergenerational deprivation of rights.

A 2019 court case concerning the rights of undocumented children to basic education revealed that there were more than 900,000 undocumented children enrolled in public schools in South Africa, of whom more than 800,000 were South African citizens. Our Constitution guarantees every child born in South Africa the right to a birth certificate, but thousands of children are being denied this right by arbitrary rules and circumstances that are beyond their control.


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Themes: Birth Registration, ID Documents and Passports, Statelessness
Regions: South Africa
Year: 2021