The vice-chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, Adam Habib, and academic Professor Jonathan Jansen took to their respective social media pages on Friday evening to raise concerns about the action taken against Professor Glenda Gray following her public statements.
This after GroundUp reported the acting director-general of the health department, Dr Anban Pillay, had requested an investigation into the conduct of Gray, the president of the Medical Research Council (MRC), citing in a letter (dated 21 May) she had "made a number of false allegations against the government".
In an interview with News24 published on 16 May, Gray described the government's phased exit from the lockdown as "nonsensical and unscientific".
In the article, she made the following statements - malnutrition cases were being seen in hospitals, the month-to-month phasing out of the lockdown had no basis in science, and the many lockdown regulations were seemingly thumb sucks.
On Thursday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize responded to Gray's statements after his office was inundated with media requests for comment regarding her opinion on the government's decisions relating to the lockdown.
Mkhize proceeded to pull five quotes by Gray, which he debunked and called "false", with a factual response to each statement made by her.
Shortly afterwards, Gray told News24 that it was "worrying" that she was being singled out, while many other scientists and experts had criticised the government's approach to the Covid-19 crisis. In a second interview with News24, Gray clarified that she had not criticised the lockdown itself, but the regulations.
Jansen in response, stated no political authority had the right to slander a scholar.
"The political attack on Professor Glenda Gray is completely unacceptable. Disagree as scientists and politicians, yes. But no political authority, including the DG of health, has the right to slander a scholar and report her to her bosses," he said via his social media page.
He added that "this is not apartheid and stop the bullying now".
The political attack on Professor Glenda Gray is completely unacceptable. Disagree as scientists and politicians, yes. But no political authority, including the DG Health, has the right to slander a scholar & report her to her bosses. This is NOT apartheid. Stop the bullying now.— Jonathan Jansen (@JJ_Stellies) May 22, 2020
Habib called the action a "chilling message to scientists not to speak out"
This action is a chilling message to scientists not to speak out. It does not enable a partnership bet. Scientists & Govt.Karim said that scientists will differ & be critical. This comes with the territory.Mkhize must get his Dept. to withdraw in the interests of the partnership.— Adam Habib (@AdHabb) May 22, 2020
He said Gray should have engaged publicly after submitting her advisory to Mkhize and he was well within his rights to respond "publicly and firmly" to her.
Habib was, however, of the view the subsequent actions were not right.
"The MRC board should decline the request of the DG. They have no authority to silence Prof Gray even if she is the CEO," he said in a thread.
Habib told News24 that the call to investigate Gray was unacceptable.
"It is a threat, of course it is. There may very well be a case for her to have engaged the minister and he responded, it should have ended there.
"To then ask the board to investigate her is unacceptable and the MRC board should decline the request, you are entitled to critique government, to have a partnership means government cannot threaten people with views they do not like," he told News24 on Friday.
Jansen could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.