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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa's biggest telecoms service provider MTN Group said on Monday that it would be enforcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees from January, the latest company in South Africa to issue a vaccine mandate.
Many South African companies have opted for mandatory vaccination in order to ensure a safe workplace environment, but that has also opened them up to potential legal challenges.
MTN's move follows President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement last month that the government was considering making COVID-19 shots compulsory for citizens to access certain places and activities.
Business lobby groups have supported the move though one of them, Business Unity South Africa, said without specifying that it was expecting legal challenges and was seeking a legal opinion to help companies enforce the vaccine mandates.
South Africa's biggest trade union COSATU last month said that its position regarding compulsory vaccination has "evolved" and it now supports such mandates as a means of curbing the pandemic.
South Africa is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections driven by the new variant Omicron first detected in the country.
This has prompted a widespread need of vaccination in the country and the continent where the pace of inoculation has been one of the slowest in the world.
"MTN Group's new vaccine policy is a measure to meet MTN's legal obligations in regard to providing a safe workplace," MTN said in a statement.
"It (vaccine mandate) also recognises the right of employees to apply to be exempted from the policy and/or refuse vaccination on certain clearly defined grounds," it said, adding that staff who do not have a valid reason for not getting vaccinated will be laid off.
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee and Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)