Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, a South African medical doctor and a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights activist, urged young people to emulate Helen Joseph’s courage and compassion in confronting the social injustices that breed social ills, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic deepening inequality, resulting in adverse health outcomes.
She was speaking during the annual Helen Joseph Memorial Lecture at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Wednesday, 01 September 2021 hosted by the Faculty of Humanities and the Department of History.
Helen Joseph, a tireless campaigner against apartheid, whose anti-apartheid activities made her the first person placed under house arrest in South Africa. She died on 25 Dec 1992 at the age of 87. Joseph received the African National Congress’s highest honor for her role in opposing apartheid.
Dr Mofokeng’s lecture titled ‘Undressing Freedom: Force, impunity and hubris as a response disaster’, contended responses to Covid-19 and the recent national unrest and what these two moments expose in terms of leadership, governance, and civil participation on decision making in South Africa. She said the road ahead of us is still treacherous and poses many challenges, but must proceed with the assurance that we deserve more, and we will not rest until we get it.
“The unfulfilled legacy of Helen Joseph leaves us with much that needs to be done. These chains must be broken. Upon revisiting her life, Joseph’s ideals and principles were realized and we have been left with an instruction to continue,” she said.
Dr Mofokeng slammed government for its reaction to militarization of public health response, saying military force is an old age colonial response. “Systems and processes must be put in place so that people can access them. Laws can be marginalised and discriminatory.”
“At the Centre of pursuit, human rights must remain at the core. Covid-19 has shown us underlying determents of health. The right to health has to be fulfilled and protected.”