At a ‘March to Save Lives’ on Friday in Pretoria, the EFF flouted disaster regulations in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and threatened the women in charge of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority. The combative party submitted a memorandum to the Sahpra, giving it seven days to adhere to its demands for vaccines from China and Russia, or face a sit-in at the home of their CEO.
EFF leader Julius Malema brushed aside accusations that the party’s protest march, by a conservative estimate of at least a thousand supporters to the offices of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) on Friday, was a super-spreader event, saying that indoor supermarkets and mines posed a greater risk for the virus to spread.
“They are saying our event is a super-spreader. It’s not true, we are meeting here for a few minutes, then we are going home. The mines are operating underground without masks but they are not called super-spreaders.
“Those are our mothers and fathers,” said Malema.
“Shoprite, Pick n Pay and other white-owned stores are open,” said Malema during the Pretoria march to demand approval for Covid-19 vaccines produced in China and Russia.
“There is no compliance underground but no one is saying it’s a super-spreader because it’s white monopoly capital. They say the EFF event is a super-spreader because they want to stifle political debate,” the EFF leader said.
Malema told supporters that the EFF had initially supported lockdown efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, but that the government had squandered the time – and money.
At the start of the march, EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo appealed for supporters to adhere to lockdown protocols, but instead of physical distancing, the crowd huddled together for about two hours. Pockets of party members scattered elsewhere in the park did not wear masks. They openly drank alcohol and nobody said anything to them.
There was also a lot of hugging and handshaking among the red berets.
The march to the Sahpra offices was held as acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane warned that tough action needed to be taken against super-spreader events. At a briefing on Friday morning, she called for “consequences” where public gatherings exceed the numbers stipulated in the disaster regulations, adding that Gauteng was in a grave situation.
The protest follows a gathering by Ace Magashule supporters outside the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday, where more than a hundred of his supporters took to the streets in solidarity with the ANC secretary-general, who is challenging his suspension from the party. The court hearing, which continued on Friday, has been held virtually amid the surge in Covid cases in Gauteng.
In terms of the Disaster Management Act regulations, under the current lockdown level 3,public gatherings are limited to 100 people outdoors and no more than 50 people indoors.
News24 reported on Friday that police are set to open a criminal case against the convenor of the EFF protest for the alleged contravention of Disaster Management Act regulations. Police spokesperson Colonel Brenda Muridili told News24 that police did not take action against the large group of protesters because they wanted to avoid a chaotic situation.
Officials were aware about plans for the march beforehand. A statement by the Tshwane Metro Police Department on Thursday confirmed knowledge of the march on Sahpra on Friday, noting the route the protesters would take, warning of road intersections that would be affected, and calling on the public to use alternative routes.
Dozens of South African Police Service and Tshwane metro police officers observed the march.
Malema led supporters with deputy president Floyd Shivambu and party general secretary Marshall Dlamini.
“Our demands are simple: we want vaccines. All we are saying is bring more so that we can vaccinate more of our people,” Malema said.
“If you lock down the country, put a plan in place. Approve the other two vaccines from Russia and China, that’s the only way to rid us of Covid-19.
“We are here for one simple thing, the rest of the writing is just English, we want other vaccines besides J&J and Pfizer [sic],” he said.
Malema accused Sahpra of not approving Sputnik V and Sinovax “because they want to give the advantage to J&J”.
He blasted Sahpra accusing it of siding with white monopoly capital and self-enrichment. The EFF then took aim at Sahpra chair, Helen Rees, and the body’s CEO, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, calling on both to resign.
Members of the African Transformation Movement were also present, with a representative, Servant Ndzwanana saying: “We support the EFF’s call for more vaccines. We are saying this is the only way to save the masses from the deadly virus”.
Marchers dispersed around 2pm to catch buses and other transport home.
Political scientist and author Professor Susan Booysen described the protest as “preposterous and opportunistic”.
“It interferes with the meticulous processes of testing and screening in the medical fraternity,” Booysen said, adding that it was aimed at getting political mileage from the governing party’s underperformance on the vaccination front, despite signs of an improvement and a widening rollout. The EFF was trying to position itself at the centre of popular discourse, as the saviour of a corrupted nation. But, Booysen said, she cannot see how its strategy can work.