Are SA’s conflated and questionable COVID-19 figures turning it into an intolerant police-nanny-state for a governance response?

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

 The classical definition of a pandemic includes nothing about population immunity, virology or disease severity.

The year 2020 departed in the silence of the night amidst South Africa’s kamikaze General Enforcer Cele [Minister of Police] threatening citizens in his documented  Durban address that they must be asleep by 9 pm. Notwithstanding the reality of deaths, contrarian and ambivalent claims of a pandemic,  or as some critique a plandemic of Covid-19, COVID -19 numbers vibrate violently in contestation as permeating every sphere of social life spaces.

Earlier today I watched a live Cricket match between the Brisbane Heat and Sidney Sixes, the stadium was full, the presence of masks visibly absent and no social distancing upheld. I wanted to know if Australia was part of the globe’s pandemic since its +26 million population and government was going on as normal as always with no lockdown restrictions. The COVID-19 related deaths for Australia confirms 909 deaths hitherto and the people of ‘Down -Under’ are considered a  grand success story in beating COVID-19.

According to President Ramaphosa and his NCCC, as reported SA is now into a full-blown second wave of the presence of the unwelcome COVID-19 guest, it is anticipated to further overstay its visit for much longer in expected third and fourth waves. South Africa is officially back into Level  3 of a hard lockdown measurable in drastic curfews of 9 pm to 6 am. We none the wiser as to what scientific evidence in data was relied upon to determine a choice for 6 am as opposed to 4 am curfew ending as was the case under Level 1. South-Africa’s usually crowded beaches [this time of the year] except for the Northern Cape beaches are all off-limits. No gatherings including faith-based, except for funerals which are limited to 50 per attendance as the order of the day.

The wearing of a mask is now compulsory since not wearing one is an offence for which you either can be fined or imprisoned for up to six months.  Shall we remind the Ramaphosa led State, it hitherto has never provided any mask for the poor from whom it demands compliance. Is this not why some countries opted to steer clear from this in demand of its citizens? I still do not know what the real rule on alcohol possession with the most recently announced Level 3 lockdown upgrade in practical sensible details. I have previously lamented in SA the disparity between plan and process is very real as it relates to COVID-19 lockdown rules and regulations.  As to be expected what you hear from the president in what we may deem the high-level perspective and what functionally plays out as explained in practical implementation sense always poses measurable contradictions and leave citizens more confused. Another disturbing trend is that the president also sees no need to red-card his truant ministers for the confusion or their silly ego-tripping. For his silence in this regard, he increasingly appears to be either agreeing with their wanton actions as part of a complex personality-group that has aided his political arrival and survival from December 2017 to continue until December 2022. Let us also not forget the current COVID-19 lockdown extends the Ramaphosa an opportunity to delay all ANC activities that in all probability wants him to account for his failure to implement ANC resolutions. Is COVID- 19 lockdown rules and regulations a means to an end to charter a road with least resistance towards December 2022?

It is this misreading of what this epoch means and purports to mean that affords a media-famished and lusty minister of police to assume he can unilaterally run roughshod over the fruits of our collective liberation struggle when he arrogates a right to direct citizens when to go to bed in directives of to go and sleep at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve. The minister is obsessed to perpetually threaten a suffering citizenry with arrests. He does so with conviction and appears to fear no reprise for his darn and damnable arrogance. He is not the only one, not to be undone in this erosion of hard-earned and blood-etched human rights is a Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. The latter is distinguishable for his love of sporting a Metro-Police uniform which increasingly confirms he may have missed his calling in life to be a police officer since he and the Combi-court pardoned but highly questionable MEC Faith Mazibuko of Gauteng have made police roadblocks their unique platform to market themselves through the attention-seeking barking of instructions to police as to whom to arrest as possessing their favourite libations and stress soothers.

Police Minister Bheki Cele and his Deputy Cassel Mathale. FILE PHOTO: Chantall Presence/ANA

We by now have heard ad-nauseum,  we are facing a pandemic, so it becomes natural to ask what a pandemic is as defined by those who know. A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”. The classical definition includes nothing about population immunity, virology or disease severity.  By this definition, pandemics can be said to occur annually in each of the temperate southern and northern hemispheres, given that seasonal epidemics cross international boundaries and affect a large number of people. However, seasonal epidemics are not considered pandemics.”

From this definition, it cannot be denied that the virus is purportedly present in a sizeable number of countries spanning most continents. This makes it than a pandemic.  However, please note the classical definition includes nothing about virology or disease severity. I don’t think this memorandum got to all politicians, commentators analysts, academics, journalists even clergy whose only role is to keep telling us of the severity of the disease.  Permit me than to critique the notion of death severity as a State-sponsored narrative and tangible in social-media phenomena. Those of us active in social media consider ourselves the real world. We are often oblivious to the fact of how small the social media world population is. We also neglect to realise that every person you have as a friend, in for example, your maximum of 5000 Facebook friends, you may share upwards of 50 – 350  in mutual friendships. Meaning you likely to read of one death at least 10 – 25 times low end, from the circle of friends that post and which you access by scrolling or is alerted to through notifications of those you follow. It’s highly likely that it is this in-built recurrence and repeats dynamic that has many fooled to assume there is this undeniable severity of the virus. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic does not speak to virology or severity of disease and cannot be forced to be what it is not.

Also,  if the classical definition does not point to virology or disease severity but details a  worldwide phenomenon and presence is it remotely possible that it can be media-hyped and blown out of proportion for severity because it works for a particular agenda of those who have an interest in keeping us all hostage to fear and equally silenced in a public dissenting opinion as driven into the kraal of submission. We need to hear from the State why it persists in its silence to explain its conflation of pandemic as essentially measurable in virology and severity of the disease when it knows otherwise? Maybe if the State in its daily updates of communications can be less ambiguous and more specific with what it means with pandemic we will have less panic in our society since. We will appreciate the true meaning of pandemic and not get hoodwinked into the demise of millions as propagated of severity. After almost a year of COVID-19 the world mortality rate sits at 1,83million. While every death is to be mourned the reality is this number pale in oblivion to for example the Spanish Flu as another time of health crisis. Equally so we can challenge the 1,83 million as not necessarily a true reflection either since we know conflation is the order of the day for many countries.

Instead of allowing the principle of a public opinion and the right to free speech count, the State, resorts to strange, undemocratic processes in the name of a disaster management. To confirm the paranoia of the State in wanting to script minds into a pandemic of virology and severity it resorts to at times mindless and very invasive if not intrusive undemocratic means. This week we received through social media notifications of the Amended Level 3 Determination of Admission of Guilt Fines in respect of Offences in terms of the Disaster Management Act 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002) regulations as updated in 2020. Given my role as a political commentator and analyst, I was naturally drawn to Regulation 14.2 which categorically states: “Any person publishing any statement through any medium to deceive other persons on COVID- 19, Covid 19 infection status of any person or any measures taken by the government to address Covid19 commits an offence.”

This aforementioned regulation besides its reference to the personal issue, essentially means the democratic State today arrogates a right to singularly determine the content of what,  “with the intention to deceive”, means without attempting to explain its interpretations or the mutations of such interpretations for those it addresses.  A reasonable deduction here is the State, therefore, has the alone right to determine what the intention of someone was in publishing a dissenting voice, or opinion or set of contra-facts on Covid-19. Equally so the State arrogates a right in the superlative to shield itself from rightful public critique with its,    “any measures to be taken by the government to address Covid-19.″ Effectively the Democratic State at the hand of a Disaster Management Act deems itself entitled to regulate the fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of speech and the right to a public opinion into obliteration.   We know the cornerstone of a democracy is its built-in DNA to insist on the bulwark of tolerance for contradicting opinions in a functional society as that which defines meaningful life.

For many of us who have this as a career be it in first, second or third choices, we are now effectively told to shut up if we cannot repeat what the State force-feed SA  in its questionable articulations and its growing police state tendencies responses to COVID-19. We are implicitly told not to ask questions or critique the state in its failed and problematic responses to COVID-19. The precarious nature of  this lay in its re-echoing of the nightmarish apartheid past, when sharing in the franchise of a public opinion measurable in freedom of speech and speaking against the state was outlawed. The Democratic State must, therefore,  assume every one of its current responses since March 26, 2020, on COVID- 19 is circumspect, constitutionally sound, above reproach, operationally faultless and legally defensible. We all know this is not the case meaning this Administration marred in contradictions, knee-jerk less thought-through decisions and flip-flopping have set the bar so low that it would be very difficult to find any sane citizen anywhere that will not question the State and its draconian actions primarily aimed for at the black unemployed class majority. The same who still as a reality of both apartheid and democracy agreement continue to dwell in Alexandra Township and Klipgat as their final residence.

So, for penning this article I may have opened myself for a charge, I guess it’s not the first time,  apartheid targeted me and many others back then in our youthfulness in the mid-’80s now as middle-aged grandfather and member of the clergy and researcher  a democratic state wants me to be silent in dissenting voice. Yet,  I dare not be silent because each time I want to be silent, that Jeremiah from Anathoth the ancient Old Testament weeping prophet reminds me, “when I swore silent, and determined not to speak anymore in YOUR name,  I found a fire shut up in my bounds and I am weary of containing it.” So,  we must continue speaking truth to power, more so us who engage in public theology as a calling – we must hold accountable those entrusted to lead regardless of who they are less perturbed by the consequences at a personal level. If we are activists for justice we cannot be intimidated by a State who increasingly has SA in a stranglehold of a police state akin to our chequered apartheid past.

Let me then upfront make my disclaimer asking questions on the COVID-19 published mortality numbers is no reflection of super-insensitivity as some want to guilt-trip or blackmail us into silence. It is not me spitting on the deaths of many infected and affected.  How could I when I visit, pray and bury them from the very close proximity of reflection? How could I if I lost loved ones all in the haze of this pandemic? My questioning of SA COVID–19 numbers is borne from the exacted obligation to keep us all accountable regardless of the crisis, to ensure the crisis is not abused for shameless political, economic and personal ends and agendas.  It’s the necessity of knowing and keeping a democratically elected State accountable for its actions and responsibilities to those who entrusted them to lead. To consciously remain a government for the people by the people and not a government co-opted and hijacked my multinationals and foreign agendas however defined. No Crisis should ever suspend thinking,  any crisis that demands thoughtlessness is an orchestrated crisis that can rightfully be labelled as ridden with ulterior motives which necessarily plays with the lives of the poor in between the railway lines of oncoming traffic.

Department of Health minister Zweli Mkhize. FILE PHOTO: Supplied

The current South African population of 59 million registers official statistics for COVID-19, in the following fashion: +1.070000 cases with +888000 recoveries and +28887 deaths. It is right here that we warrant asking questions. Part of critically engaging the COVID – 19 numbers brings us to the undeniable reality of having to debunk some myths about COVID-19. One such myth is the advanced notion that a COVID-19 infection automatically translates to mortality? The truth is there is no scientific evidence that being infected automatically translates to a mortality statistic. Since there exist no empirical defensible data to support the claim why are we in herd-mentality forced to daily hear how deadly COVID-19 as an infection is? To further substantiate this as an utter fabrication, one only has to look at the official recovery rates as published by the State, which confirms an average of 86% at the low end and high point 98,6%.  These recoveries must mean something unless we all are part of the scripted sponsored narrative in which CNN features strongly as truculent  to tell the USA citizens how many recoveries exists in the USA.

The primary basis for engaging the numbers is the fact that SA is and remains a constitutional democracy with noble ideals as fundamental for governance. In moments of crisis, real or fake, it is often erroneously accepted  by some that this democracy does not exist it is even considered that the crisis innately justifies the obliteration of citizens’ rights and chief among these the right to know. While the triumvirate of personalities of Cele, Mbalula and a Mazibuko of Gauteng misinterpret the current crisis to extend them a latitude of reducing SA to their fiefdom of an apartheid police state, we will continue to remind them and the SA president with all his advisors regardless of profession and expertise the COVID-19  crisis does not automatically do away with those democratic ideals that we fought for and others laid their lives down for.  We are, therefore, obligated to insist on the protection of democracy from both within and without against those who want us to believe they have the best interest at aim.

Engaging the State on the COVID -19 numbers is to tell it in no uncertain sense you unfortunately have not told South Africa the full picture on mortality rates for the period of the COVID’-19 existence? Now that is a strong assertion, yet we must of necessity know how many people die annually in SA and what are the major causes of death to relate meaningfully to the brandished COVID-19 fatalities? We warrant knowing why these formerly known statistics are not any more readily available specifically for the period of the presence of the 2020 pandemic.  We warrant asking what informed the State’s rationale for this its deliberate choice not to disclose consistently as part of its weekly reporting the relational aspects of mortality rates in SA as accepted as normal We sought to know what interest is served when these under normal circumstances annualised statistics are seemingly withheld or simply not reported on anymore concerning COVID-19 statistics.

Our seeking clarity on what the numbers mean extends to beyond just its importance for the upkeep and preservation of SA in democratic rights measurable in a right know in transparency but it also brings in to sharp focus the methodology and praxis by which these numbers are given life since it inherently confirms the idea of advanced numbers as simply resisting to add up: Meaning how many people were for example tested to arrive at the official published 18,000 a day? Are we to surmise that South Africa in magic wand currently confirms a capacity measurable in adequate test kits of 250000 per day?  The state is not forthcoming on what details the current SA both private and public capacity is for testing people daily.

At this stage, all conversations are automatically crafted as summarily directed to vaccines as the automatic last resort answer for the current situation [real or stage-played]. We still do not know why vaccines are punted as our last resort when recoveries occur devoid of any real medical help in most cases at homes with ordinary flu medication concoctions. This is South Africa and we never cynical to ask from the State who in the toxic combination from the anticipated vaccine bonanza? What deals are not known to the SA citizenry; we ask these because no investigative journalist appears to show any appetite to critically engage the State on anything of COVID-19 in its publicly known manifold contradictions. We also need to know who will carry the can should these super fast-tracked vaccines have any negative repercussions; will we be able to file class suits against the President and the State?

In a society where the HIV prevalence rate for all adults aged 15-49 is 19%. Statistics SA estimates the number of deaths attributable to AIDS for the 2017 calendar year was 126,755 or 25.3% of South African deaths. From this, we may deduce that South Africa for the year 2017 may have had a figure of  more than 500,000 across all South -African deaths.  We also know that the ordinary influenza mortality numbers for the 2019 year are confirmed at around 11000.  These occur without anyone batting an eyelid.  Yet now with 28887 deaths of COVID- 19, the State is  communicating a pandemic in choice frames of the severity of the disease. The importance of knowing the real numbers of South Africa’s COVID-19 statistics is crucial for a plethora of very salient reasons.  All things being equal is it not remotely possible that the current 28887 death rates as communicated by the State on closer examination could prove considerably lower? If we know the numbers for all fatalities as it relates to diseases and medically pronounced deaths is it possible to make a distinction which may see a significant slashing of the current threatening blanket mortality rate for COVID related cases? As a logical consequence of the aforementioned are we then not obligated to ask:  Are we experiencing a pandemic of COVID-19 that attests an aggressive mortality rate rendering the infection of COVID-19 a deadly encounter?  Upon ascertaining the real numbers of deaths for 2020 are we not as good citizens exercise our rightful agency to hold accountable those entrusted in political office to explain the discrepancies of the numbers on COVID-19?

According to the SAMRC Report South Africa’s weekly deaths from all causes for 2020 marking the period that starts January 1 and concludes December 15, 2020 details an average of just under 10 800 with an incremental spike that started around the week of June 3, and culminated at the highest point of 16000 in the week marking of July 15th.  Natural causes deaths for ages 1-59 for the exact period sees an average of 4200 per week followed by a spike for the aforementioned period measurable on June 3, with the high point of just under 6000.  It is important to note that the period of June through July also marks a South African winter period generically referred to as the flu season.

In distinction, natural causes deaths for ages 60+ for the same period averages at just under 4300 per week with a spike that also started around the week of June 3rd with the highest point of the week of July 15, just registering just under 10000. The SAMRC report suggests one approach to assist the understanding of the emerging COVID-19 mortality is to compare the estimated weekly excess deaths with the number of COVID-19  deaths reported by the Minister of Health. It is important, however, to be cognizant of the possible discrepancy immanent in the week the death occurred and when the death is was reported. COVID- 10 deaths according to the SAMRC report are classified by the date the numbers are reported to the department. It further claims if all excess natural deaths were due to COVID- 19, and all COVID -19 deaths were all perfectly-identified and reported, the two series would be identical.

It then argues that the number of estimated excess deaths has begun to decrease, consistent with the trend in the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths. The report concedes more data is required as the underlying causes of death. It, however, asserts that this observation is strongly supportive that a significant proportion of the current excess mortality being observed in South Africa is likely attributable to COVID 19. Notice again the usage of likely attributable not at all a categorical scientifically deduction.  The RSA natural excess deaths for the period with usual averages with a figure of under 2500 per week in maximum and above -2500 in minimum medians saw a dramatic spike for the period June 3, with the highest point of 7000 for the week of July 15. From the SAMRC report, it appears the COVID-19 reported deaths only started around May 6 and had evidence in twin-peaks of a July 15th and July 29th weeks respectively before tapering off from the period of August 12 and continued through to December 2.

Please note we are here talking of ‘natural causes’ deaths as per week from January 1,  to December 15, 2020. We must appreciate that natural deaths in many legal jurisdictions detail the manner of death as a determination, typically made by the coroner, medical examiner, police or similar officials and recorded as a vital statistic. In both the USA and the UK, the distinction is made between the cause of death (sometimes referred to as the “mechanism of death “), which is a specific disease or injury, versus manner for death which is primarily a legal determination. While different categories are used in different jurisdictions, but the manner of death determinations include everything from very broad categories like ‘natural and homicide”  to specific manners like traffic accidents or gunshot wounds.

How then do we make sense of the published 11000, subsequent 17710 and now over  18000 per day positive tests as communicated? Does this mean SA has overnight a capacity of over 200000 test kits? Why does the daily COVID – 19 statistics omit the daily number of tests to aid a better proportional reflection of SA’s true capacity to execute the tests?  What to make of more than 1million tests as advanced by the State? Do these include the reality of re-testing which occurs for many more than once, meaning does the tests authentically speak to the population since it may include a sizeable portion of people that are on a second if not third test.  Is it true that according to a recent table of Africa on mortality rates as it relates to COVID-19, prepared by data analyst Andrew Mather confirms that South Africa, Swaziland and Namibia are the only countries in Africa showing deaths?

The United Kingdom has at least five different sources of mortality data. ONS is the best one because it takes its information from finalised death certificates. Due to that, it is often slow and the numbers are subjected to being corrected at a later date. More contemporaneous figures come from Public Health England. We also know that in the UK they have stopped reporting on flu figures, meaning COVID-19 has been conflated with ordinary flu. South Africa has for the duration of the presence of COVID been twinned with the UK in many instances are we to surmise that South Africa also have stopped reporting on its annualised influenza figures thus following the UK to conflate COVID-19 with ordinary flu?

Another strange phenomenon re-echoing a need to render us a lockdown nation came at the hand of a much publicised empty Baragwanath Trauma unit. Pictures of the empty unit trended the whole and some did not see it right to ask why we would celebrate an empty trauma unit. Beyond that they also tone deaf to hear the argument for a Lockdown as the magic wand solution to endemic social challenges of alcohol abuse. I unfortunately cannot shar this empty trauma unit because it communicates intentions of easier answer for complex challenges where the abnormal situation threatens a means for future governance.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu and General Solly Shoke. FILE PHOTO: GCIS

Is it not time we demand the real COVID-19 mortality numbers for SA. In our flu figures conflated situation,  simply informing us that 18000 people tested positive and 413 died of COVID related circumstances during the previous day is not telling us anything in the real sense. Can the State be more specific and substantial if not blatantly honest? Are we to subtract all other diseases and natural deaths for example by heart attacks, strokes, cancer, flu, HIV etc, numbers and give us the real number? Shall we implore President Ramaphosa & his trusted lieutenant Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize to be more forthcoming and detail transparency since we as citizens deserve to know the real numbers! I am afraid the time for fear-mongering, threats and reducing us to a police state must stop now. We are owed honest statistics on COVID-19 mortality figures.  We are not a nanny-state, if we should take responsibility for our own lives we need the correct information in transparency to assist our responses.

In conclusion, will history record that the man Nelson Mandela tasked to oversee the writing of the egalitarian South African constitution,  26 years later in a strange twist of events,  at the hand of the p[l]andemic of COVID – 19 ended up violating the very undeniable principles of the constitution,  by turning SA into a police-state akin to its predecessor apartheid state for denying its citizens their agency in the inalienable right of freedom of speech and access to a public dissenting opinion and categorically criticising his administration in its handling and responses to COVID-19?