While Covid-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories spread as rapidly as the infection itself, often spurred on by remarks made by high-ranking public officials, health advocacy organisation the African Alliance has filed a complaint with the Judicial Services Commission against Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
This comes after Mogoeng’s now infamous prayer at Tembisa Hospital on December 10 and comments he made the following day, which the alliance is calling “false and dangerous vaccine claims”.
In the prayer, Mogoeng said: “If there be any [Covid-19] vaccine that is the work of the devil meant to infuse 666 in the lives of the people, meant to corrupt their DNA ... may it be destroyed by fire.”
The following day, during a media briefing, Mogoeng repeated: “If there’s a vaccine with 666, I want God to destroy it. If there’s a vaccine meant to corrupt the DNA of people, I’m asking God to interrupt it. If there’s any clean vaccine, they must procure it quickly.
“I don’t care about the consequences. We’ve been quiet for far too long, toeing the line. I’m not going to toe any line and it doesn’t matter how many people criticise me.”
The alliance said Mogoeng’s comments, which he has repeatedly defended, implied that vaccines could be dangerous with no factual basis and this undermined the public’s confidence in life-saving and scientifically tested vaccines.
“Let’s be clear: vaccines aren’t made by the devil and don’t change your DNA,” said African Alliance head Tian Johnson, who submitted the complaint on behalf of the organisation.
“The real danger is that statements such as Mogoeng’s decrease the public trust in vaccines, and that hurts all of us.”
Preliminary data for phase 3 trials of four vaccines, namely Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik V, have shown that all of them have efficacy above 90% in protecting against the virus (or severe forms of it) and that they are safe for human use.
African Alliance’s submission is based on the section 14(4)(E) set by the Judicial Service Commission Act, which provides a basis for complaints about wilful and grossly negligent conduct unbecoming of the holding of judicial office.
The alliance believes that in his unfounded comments about vaccines, Mogoeng also violated the Code of Judicial Conduct in relation to the act.
It added that the Chief Justice should be aware that national regulators like the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority exist to ensure that products like vaccines are safe, effective and of high quality.
“It’s highly likely that the Chief Justice himself is alive and healthy today – and free to promote such baseless conspiracy theories – as a direct of result of him being vaccinated [against potentially deadly diseases] as a child in Koffiekraal village, North West,” it said.
Speaking to City Press last week about the conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19 vaccines, SA Council of Churches general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said scepticism and rumours about vaccines had been rampant even as far back as when the country introduced the TB vaccine bacille Calmette-Guérin in 1973.
Asked whether churches also had a role to play in speaking out against Covid-19 conspiracy theories, Mpumlwana said: “Remember that South Africa has 80% of people who claim to be Christians, but not all of them believe in the same thing.
There are Christians who believe that salvation comes through the likes of Shepherd Bushiri and others who believe salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. It depends on the belief system promoted in a particular church.
“What’s certain is that we have to accept that science is God’s gift to society. Human beings are created in the image of God: there’s a dimension of the image of God in us which is therefore a creative element. God enabled us to search the secrets of the universe, [even if] you don’t accept certain aspects of science over others. It’s science that enabled us to make soap, so at what point do you say, ‘My religion is against science’?”
Mogoeng is just one of several prominent public leaders who have peddled misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines.
Johnson said this was concerning: “What public officials say matters. When what they say puts lives at risk and spreads dangerous lies about vaccines, we’ll hold them to account. We expect government and political parties to do the same.”