Opinion & Analysis

Q&A with minister of international relations and cooperation Naledi Pandor on UK's red list

The UK government has kept SA on its red list. Chris Barron asked Naledi Pandor, minister of international relations & co-operation

26 September 2021 - 00:00 By Chris Barron
International relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor is surprised by the UK's decision to retain SA on its Covid-19 travel red list.
International relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor is surprised by the UK's decision to retain SA on its Covid-19 travel red list.
Image: Sunday Times/Alon Skuy

Were you surprised by the decision?

I was surprised, because I had spoken to the foreign secretary and indicated to him the progress that SA has made with respect to the third wave. I was very hopeful after our discussion.

So how do you explain it?

They say the Beta variant is still prevalent in SA and that the numbers are not declining in the manner that our government says. I'm surprised they appear to have inadequate information.

Shouldn't you have made sure they had all the facts?

If they'd asked for information obviously we would have made sure that they did have the facts.

Shouldn't you have been more proactive?

We've been trying for weeks to talk to them, and I was not getting detailed responses.

Should you have been more forceful?

I would say, yes, I should have been more forceful. But I did not imagine that the UK was not following the very transparent reports that SA provides. Their decision is not founded in the reality of SA's data.

Was this data presented to them?

The information was readily available. I don't recall an instance where the UK government asked us for information.

Should you have waited for them to ask?

I suppose I believe in rationality. When I wish to make a decision about a country, I'll check the facts first.

Wasn't it the job of our high commissioner in London to ensure they had the facts whether they asked for them or not?

Our high commissioner has had meeting after meeting on this matter. What we found was not an openness to listening to us or engaging with us on the basis of information that we have available.

We've been told SA is bringing together scientists and advisers from both countries. Why only now?

When you see information on the UK's infection rate published by their government you take that as factual. SA similarly publishes information on a daily basis. If the UK don't regard this information as factual then there's a much deeper problem.

Wouldn't doubts about the facts have been removed if scientists and advisers from SA and the UK had been brought together sooner?

I have no idea. From my recollection no request has come to consult our scientists. It is us who are now initiating the meeting that will happen on Monday.

Did you wait too long to do this?

Not at all. We wanted to understand what was happening, and we're now seeing the very severe fault lines in the British decision-making process.

Shouldn't you have been putting pressure on the UK government the moment we were put on the red list?

We should have asked questions right from the beginning about what criteria they were using.

Why have countries like Kenya, with higher case loads, less testing, less vaccination, been removed?

It boggles the mind.

Because they worked harder to be removed?

I don't think so. We worked as hard. We haven't been sitting and watching this process.

Kenya set up a joint task team with the sole purpose of getting them off the list. Did we?

No, because we were at the peak of a very bad third wave when the red list was announced.


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