‘My work will be centered around the theme of vulnerability and the marginalised’ – Mofokeng

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health says she will centre her work around the theme of vulnerability and the marginalised.

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng was confirmed as an independent expert through a consensus procedure at the Human Rights Council on Friday.

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng recognises the huge responsibilities placed on her shoulders in this new role, beating out three other candidates to become special rapporteur.

“When you think of healthcare or the right to health it encompasses so many issues and important issues around water and sanitation, malnutrition and food security. It encompasses other determinants of health like having healthy communities that are free of violence, having work spaces that are safe and taking care of the employees. And so COVID is one added factor, all of these are the existing inequalities around food security, around housing, around access to vaccinations and malnutrition in children and the issue of course of gender based violence and support of survivors post violence and so its not an easy time to take on the baton but I think I’m equal to the task.”

The UN says the right to health is an inclusive one, extending not only to timely and appropriate healthcare but also to the underlying determinants of the health such as access to safe water and sanitation among others.

Dr Mofokeng wants human rights to be the framework for how she will approach the new role.

“There’s a very important lived experience of being a black woman in Africa I think that I will bring into this role, it’s a lens of reproductive justice, economic justice, social justice, land rights that I will bring to this role because I think not wanting to celebrate the many firsts but it is the first time that the UN has appointed someone that looks like me and therefore I think it does mean something and so it’s for me to lean on all of those experiences that I have as a young girl who grew up in Qwa Qwa, a Bantustan at the time. There is something about growing up in that environment that can be said for other young children across the world growing up in those very militarised environments. And so in my own personal life but also in the lives of the many people that I have come across throughout my work as a medical doctor.”

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, she will have to hit the road running – in a global environment that has highlighted the vulnerabilities societies face, particularly around access to health care.

“What COVID has definitely done for SA is shown the historic and deep structural inequalities that have existed through colonialism, apartheid, even now in democracy – and what it has done is highlighted – so it’s the people already in the margins, the people who were already vulnerable, so people who are differently abled who need mobility aids, its people dependent on school feeding schemes who are now left to be starving and those are children, it’s women who had to navigate really difficult and violent spaces just trying to get from work to home and vice versa that are still under gender-based violence situations, still suffering the most.  So, what COVID has shown South Africa in now uncertain terms that we have a lot work that needs to be done.”