By: Clyde Ramalaine
A week ago, South-Africans witnessed an orchestrated proverbial Oscar-winning performance in the Presidential welcoming of a consignment of vaccines complete with a photo shoot. South Africans again saw what ultimately matters for its 4th ballot elected President, Cyril Ramaphosa, namely his image and nothing else. A week that started with the welcoming of vaccines as the first leg of a public relations exercise followed by his periodic public addresses would end with more than embarrassment with the breaking of news of expiring and ineffective AstraZeneca drugs. South-Africans watched as beamed live on all major television broadcasts a buoyant Ramaphosa, his usually absent deputy DD Mabuza, and Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, inspect labels on the consignment thus confirming it as the correct batch winged in on an Emirates flight.
It did not bother the COVID-19 Lockdown Emperor and image-obsessed President that the consignment he was to receive did not arrive on an SAA aircraft. I am not sure if any other COVID-19 infected nation’s President had this type of 21 gun-salute for the arrival of its first batch, then we pretend we very busy fixing the real challenges.
Let us first contextualise the arrival of the one-million batch earmarked for the frontline warriors against the pandemic. We all know that the President and his entire team including the ANC-DSG Jessie Duarte are on record to have told South Africa that vaccines will arrive from May – June 2021. However, news began to spread that South-Africa dropped the ball in securing the vaccines. We started hearing blame-gaming eventually echoed in emptiness of cheap blackmail understood in theories of ‘vaccine nationalism’.
Vaccine nationalism became the deceptive means to deflect the public nakedness of the SA leadership that dismally failed to prioritise the acquisition of vaccines. Instead of falling on his sword, Ramaphosa would now be the lead voice to exert cheap blackmail on other [wealthier] nations who had more foresight as less captured by incoherent regulations that hamstrung ministers to work on the vaccine issue. The arrival of this batch of vaccines must, therefore, be seen and interpreted against this umwelt. It was, scripted as another opportunity aimed at selling Ramaphosa, ‘the messiah’. Little did we know then as we do now, the vaccines that arrived detailed an April 2021 expiry date and even more troublesome is its failure in efficacy to combat the new 501Y.V2 variant.
However, news broke that would confirm the ball was dropped again. In an interview, the lead investigator in the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial, Professor Shabir Mahdi informed South-Africa that there were “disappointing results” showing that the vaccine did not work well against the COVID-19 variant 501Y.V2, first identified in South Africa. Mahdi also said that they only discovered the batch’s expiry date as the Emirates flight was touching down. According to him, they informed the officials. Following Mahdi, by the time the President arrived at ORT he and his entourage must have known that the vaccines have an expiry date as determined. What then were they doing applauding the arrival of soon expiring vaccines and posing for photoshoots? South – Africans want to know what the Ramaphosa was inspecting on the label of the batch? Was SA again deceived? Will, we be told as with the Eskom saga, there was sabotage? Why was the shipment not stopped and the efficacy tested before the time?
Another confusing aspect with the vaccines as a solution emanates from the fact that the President in his last address assured citizens that vaccination is not enforceable. Let us hear Ramaphosa in his own words, “But I want to be clear. Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated. Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will the vaccine be administered in secret.” [sic] The president said: “Our scientists estimate that we will likely reach herd immunity once around 67 percent of our people are immune. It translates to around 40 million people in South Africa.” [sic] So, what if the majority of people reject the vaccine project? Tell us what the State will do when it can’t attain their threshold of herd-immunity? Now I ask again who is fooling who since citizens will have a right to refuse vaccination? Furthermore, since citizens will be paying for inoculation will this not be a factor in not attaining the targeted herd-immunity number? Is the president, with this statement, not cautioning citizenry that opts to participate in the vaccine-drive as doing so at their own risk, indemnifying the government from any possible latent claims?
Shortly after the arrival of the batch of vaccines, a letter from the law offices of Kirshen Naidoo & Company addressed to the President surfaced. In such a demand is made that the president address the nation to admit his glairing failure and omission to acknowledge the Indian government and its Serum institute played to have SA’s first batch. The letter notes, “we draw your attention that you together with your team of advisors and experts had failed to secure vaccines for South Africa, but for the generosity of the Indian government, the Serum Institute of India and the people of India, South Africa would still be standing in a long line begging for vaccines to be allocated to it.” What we now know is that the AstraZeneca batch of vaccines was paid but was made possible in allocation by the Indian Government and Serum Institute. With allocation we mean India foregoing its right to access and allowing South Africa its position.
What is even more perplexing is the absence of any of the mainstream media, usually loud Foundations, public academics, or the subservient clergy to condemn this glaring failure of the Ramaphosa leadership on the subject of vaccines. Despite the 2020 PPE scandal of billions looted, this expired and ineffective vaccines as purchased details a sequel in the scandalous state-led response to COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the ambivalent in rectitude are silent in this instance to condemn bad planning, wasteful and fruitless expenditure. They do not call for which oversight dereliction that results in someone held accountable. Their known zeal to flag wrong appears uniquely reserved for their choice favoured political enemies just not for their superhero Ramaphosa. One such entity is the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation who long, lost its original purpose and is increasingly confirming a mere apparatus to act as propaganda spin-machinery for Ramaphosa personality factional interest, wrote a response. We not sure if the centre for the AKF response was a South African discursive Indian identity. The Kirshen Naidoo letter to which the AKF responded was explicit as speaking for and on behalf of Indians and seeking Indian recognition from the President of SA. We are not sure what informed the need for the AKF to respond when the Ramaphosa is fully capable defend his administration’s case.
Should we not keep Ramaphosa and his leadership accountable for this sequel of a COVID scandal? Why are we silent to raise the proverbial red flag on those who signed off to receive this consignment? Who do we keep responsible in political leadership oversight for this and why should we not insist that heads roll? Are we serious about keeping politicians and elected or accountable or do we play factional games when it suits us? In my understanding, Ramaphosa is not a hero for instituting an SIU investigation on the alleged R500bn PPE scandal when he abdicates responsibility in oversight for the crimes investigative units are currently dealing with. Ramaphosa’s ominous silence the failure of his leadership on this vaccine sequel is deplorable.