JOHANNESBURG, Dec 11 (Reuters) - South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Friday dismissed concerns that he might be endangering people’s health by linking coronavirus vaccines to a “Satanic agenda”.
It was the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic that a senior judge had aired such preoccupations.
South Africa has registered more than 22,700 deaths from COVID-19, by far the highest number on the continent. Worries quickly surfaced, in a country where new medical interventions are often controversial, that people might avoid vaccination as a result of the comments.
After South Africa began hosting the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine trial, anti-vaccine activists protested against Africans being used as test subjects.
Two decades ago, then-president Thabo Mbeki famously questioned whether the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) caused AIDS, which has ravaged the country.
Mogoeng, who frequently displays his avid Christian faith while performing his duties, prayed at a public event on Thursday that people should be spared any vaccine that sought to “advance a Satanic agenda of the mark of the beast”.
Addressing questions about this at a news conference on Friday to release a judiciary report, Mogoeng said: “If there is any vaccine that is deliberately intended to do harm to people, that vaccine must never see the light of day. I cry unto God to stop it.”
Mogoeng added: “I don’t think the vaccine must ever be compulsory ... You can’t impose a vaccine on people. Why should you?”
The Sunday Times Daily news site quoted Wits University virology professor Barry Schoub, head of a ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19, as saying:
“It is unfortunate that someone of that stature is misleading people because vaccines are such a major part of controlling this epidemic and it is unfortunate that someone with such influence is opposing efforts to control it.”
The human rights organisation Africa 4 Palestine said the remarks “undermine medical science and South Africa’s position on the distribution of vaccines”.
But Mogoeng said he would not be silenced: “I don’t care about the consequences. We’ve been quiet for far too long, toeing the line.”
South Africa hopes to receive its first coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX global distribution scheme in the second quarter of next year. (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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