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South African President Warns Pandemic Has Set Back African Development

Despite the continent-wide approach taken by African countries to combat COVID-19, the pandemic has set back their development aspirations, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told world leaders at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Speaking via video-link, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that, with resources redirected to fighting the virus, efforts to provide housing, health care, water and sanitation, and education have been hampered, and called for interest payments on African countries’ debt to be suspended.

Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals

“Until we eradicate global poverty, we will always fall short of realizing the vision of the founders of the United Nations”, Mr. Ramaphosa told world leaders, reminding them of the importance of meeting all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The South African President emphasized gender equality, including the expansion of opportunities for women, and ensuring their rights in the workplace, political life, and in society as a whole.

South Africa, he noted, is a member of the UN’s Generation Equality, prioritizing the eradication of gender-based violence and femicide, and is working to adopt an African Union Convention on violence against women. African Union member states, he continued, are also working on measures to support financial inclusion for women.

‘Silence the guns’

Turning to peace and security matters, Mr. Ramaphosa declared that South Africa is continuing with efforts to “silence the guns”, through conflict resolution and peace-building.

Increased cooperation between the UN and African Union has, he said, contributed to improving peace and security in the Darfur region of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic.

And, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, South Africa has, continued Mr. Ramaphosa, promoted international peace and security by advocating for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue.

‘Advance green economies’

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic recovery, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that it presents an opportunity to “place the global economy on a low-carbon, climate resilient developmental path”.

The principles of green, and circular, economies must be advanced, he declared, for the sake of the environment, as well as for job creation and economic growth.

The South African premier added that climate change adaptation, mitigation and support must be at the heart of the global recovery effort.

A choice between tolerance and prejudice

For Mr. Ramaphosa, one of the upshots of the pandemic is that is has presented the world with a choice, and an opportunity to create a new order, rooted in “solidarity, equality and unity of purpose.”

“When history faithfully records the global response to the worst health emergency of this century”, concluded Mr. Ramaphosa, “let it be said that we stood and acted as one, that we provided leadership, and that we gave the peoples of all nations hope and courage”.

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