JOHANNESBURG, South AFRICA – South Africa, which will take delivery of its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from India on Monday, has sparked controversy after declaring it will exclude millions of undocumented immigrants from its immunisation programme.
The discriminatory policy was announced by health minister Zweli Mkhize on Saturday, contradicting the country’s treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane who told news editors days earlier that the government will not “turn away undocumented people.”
“All you need when you go [to a vaccination center] is to show that you have got an ID, you are a South African registered voter,” Mkhize told SABC, appearing to even sideline foreign nationals with legal status.
“For those who are undocumented, we are not able to deal with that because at the moment we would like to be able to deal with people based on the South African registration. So at this point, we have no plan to deal with those that are not documented.”
South Africa is home to millions of migrants from all over the continent and beyond, who have sought refuge for economic and political reasons.
Mkhize’s remarks attracted immediate backlash from both locals and foreigners with one South African lawyer declaring the plan unconstitutional.
“The suggestion by minister of health, Zweli Mkhize, that vaccine rollout be limited to citizens is unconstitutional. The constitution guarantees the right to health to everyone in South Africa,” tweeted Advocate Jason Brickhill, a constitutional lawyer.
“It also makes no public health sense – the virus does not check people’s papers!”
Groups representing foreigners in South Africa also denounced the vaccination strategy saying excluding other groups will only complicate the already formidable war against the coronavirus pandemic.
Others called the policy irrational and xenophobic.
“What Mkhize is saying is that only South African citizens will get the vaccine; that means all foreigners here legally or illegally will not be vaccinated. It makes no sense,” Dr. Vusumuzi Sibanda, chairman of the African Diaspora Forum told the Voice of America’s Studio 7.
To date, South Africa has recorded more than 1.4 million Covid-19 infections and 44,000 deaths.
To achieve herd immunity, government aims to inoculate two-thirds of its population or 40 million people.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will on Monday receive the country’s first order of 1 million AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine doses from India which will be used to inoculate healthcare workers over the next three or so months.
South African press reported Sunday that the country – the worst hit on the continent – has secured an additional 20 million doses from Pfizer plus millions of vaccines from other drug manufacturers.