By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilda to the capital Pretoria, lauded the European country for its assistance to Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa emphasized the role played by Belgium in backing the World Health Organization’s mRNA technology transfer hub initiative established in South Africa to improve Africa’s access to vaccines and therapeutics.
“I wish to express our appreciation to the kingdom of Belgium for its role in the global fight against COVID-19. Belgium is an important donor to the vaccine alliance GAVI, for the operation of COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative,” said Ramaphosa at a press briefing with the Belgian king on Thursday.
He added that Belgium had donated about 10 million doses of vaccines during the pandemic, with a significant proportion going to African countries in need of vaccines.
Ramaphosa praised the collaboration between South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics firm and Belgium’s Univercells Group to develop a novel mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and to improve preparedness for future health emergencies.
The effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were also to be discussed between the two leaders, with Ramaphosa emphasizing that South Africa supports a peaceful solution to the war. South Africa has not publicly criticized Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“We look forward to sharing our perspectives on the conflict during our meeting, and to learn more about Belgium’s stance. It is also important to consider the impact of the conflict on the international economy, especially with regards to global food and energy security,” Ramaphosa said ahead of meeting privately with the king.
Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said Belgium understands South Africa’s stance on the war in Ukraine and urged South Africa to use its “channels of communications to advance on a path toward peace.”
“I think this is the major foreign policy issue for Europe and it will likely remain so, I’m afraid, for the next months. We are fully committed to help Ukraine defend itself. We see this as essential to defend European security but also the U.N. Charter’s principle,” said Lahbib.
“We have always looked up to South Africa as a key partner for peace and the defence of human rights and basic international principles,” said Lahbib.
The Belgian monarchs are expected to engage with South Africa’s business, academic and civil society in Johannesburg and Cape Town over the next few days and visit historical and cultural sites.