Migrant organisations threaten to challenge SA’s vaccination policy

Organisations dealing with the rights of migrants in South Africa have criticised that government’s discriminatory policies, which will exclude foreign nationals from the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive.

The migrant activists said they would engage with the South African government for clarity and may further challenge the decision in courts of law.

The South African government caused shock waves when its health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that the country’s vaccine rollout would be limited to nationals only.

Dr Mkhize said his government did not have the capacity to assist undocumented foreign nationals and though the vaccination would be voluntary, South Africans must show their identification document (ID) cards and prove that they are registered voters.

But migrant and human rights activists said denying other parts of the population would pose a threat to all citizens in South Africa, as the disease would continue spreading unchecked among communities.

In an interview with CITE, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Nicholas Ngqabutho Mabhena said they would engage the South African government for more clarity on the matter.

“We are engaging the South African government, the governing party – ANC and it’s alliance partners because our view is that every person who is in South Africa should be vaccinated. So for the government of South Africa to say only South Africans will receive the vaccine is discriminatory. We don’t think its proper,” said the Johannesburg based chairperson.

Mabhena said there were migrants who were documented and living legally in South Africa, contributing to the country’s growth who deserved a shot as well.

“Firstly, we have migrants particularly Zimbabweans who are legally in South Africa and have permits, so our understanding from the statement issued by the minister of health is that only South Africans with IDs and are registered on the voters roll will receive the vaccine.  You have Zimbabweans and other migrants with permanent resident statuses who are legal in South Africa and are paying tax, they have a right to receive a vaccine if they so wish,” he said.

Mabhena said they will also engage authorities on the status of undocumented migrants working and living in South Africa.

“The reality is we have Zimbabweans not registered or undocumented that live in South Africa and the South African government recognises that fact, particularly people who provide low skills. These are the issues that we will be engaging with the government for these coming weeks,” Mabhena said.

Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, leader of the African Diaspora Global Network, a migrant rights organisation based in South Africa, said it was not surprising for the South African government to exclude other nationals from its vaccination drive, looking at how they have handled issues relating to other African nationals.

“It’s not surprising but we were shocked at first because we understand well how this government works. To defeat the virus, a large population means almost everyone including those who have no papers and with permits have to be vaccinated. This is what scientists call achieving herd immunity, where most of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease,” he said.

“Vaccinating a large population will also assist those who are not immune to the disease. But we question how this will be achieved if the government said those who are voting are the ones who can be vaccinated. What happens to other migrants who are legally in South Africa, have work permits and permanent residencies but without the right to vote.”

Dr Sibanda said his organisation would engage the minister of health for an explanation and possibly go to court to challenge the exclusionary vaccination programme.

“We have to write to Dr Mkhize so that he can explain. We can even go to courts because this is discrimination and that is not fair. Remember the same happened with the grants that were offered first offered to South Africans while migrants were excluded yet everyone felt the impacts of a Level Five Lockdown,” said the migrant activist.

“Migrants struggled to make ends meets and they could not stay at home as they were forced to go work and in the meantime possibly catching and spreading the virus. The risk of Covid-19 spreading even if vaccination takes place is still there, now what more if only a certain population is the one that benefits. This exclusionary measures will not help South Africa and neither will they help Africa.”

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