South Africa: President Ramaphosa Signs Controversial Health Bill Into Law Ahead Of Elections

By John Ikani

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed a landmark law establishing a National Health Insurance (NHI) program, sparking mixed reactions just weeks before the country’s general election.

The NHI, a cornerstone of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s platform, aims to provide universal healthcare access to all South Africans. This is a significant step towards addressing the nation’s deep healthcare inequalities, a legacy of the apartheid era.

“The NHI is a commitment to ending the stark disparities that have long determined who gets proper healthcare and who gets left behind,” Ramaphosa declared during a televised signing ceremony in Pretoria.

The program will be funded by a government-managed pool, ensuring healthcare at government-determined rates. However, implementing the system nationwide is expected to take several years.

The legislation’s passage follows years of debate and parliamentary approval in June 2023. Ramaphosa defended the NHI against criticism from opposition parties and business groups, arguing that South Africa is simply fulfilling a global commitment to ensuring healthcare for all.

“Those opposing this progress are completely out of step,” he asserted.

South Africa currently grapples with a fragmented healthcare system, with a mix of public and private providers. The public system is often overburdened, while private care, often of higher quality, remains out of reach for many citizens.

“The current system is fragmented, inadequate, and simply unacceptable,” Ramaphosa acknowledged. Government data shows that only eight million South Africans, out of a population of 62 million, have access to private medical care.

The President believes the NHI will address both the strain on the public system and the cost barrier of private care. However, the opposition is deeply sceptical.

The Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus), a right-wing party, fears the NHI could lead to the collapse of the entire healthcare system. They also question the timing of the legislation’s approval, suggesting it’s a ploy to secure votes for the ANC in the upcoming election.

“The ANC is willing to gamble with the country’s healthcare system just to cling to power,” the FF Plus charged. The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has also consistently criticized the NHI plan.

The government, on the other hand, maintains that the NHI will improve health outcomes, reduce preventable deaths, and alleviate poverty. “The rising cost of healthcare pushes families into deeper poverty,” Ramaphosa pointed out. “The NHI will free up resources for essential needs and ultimately help reduce poverty.”

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