Mkhize says there was no threat to scientists' freedom of speech in public spat with Prof Gray

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said scientists and academics are welcome to express their views, 'but when those views are factually incorrect, they must be corrected'. File picture.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize said scientists and academics are welcome to express their views, 'but when those views are factually incorrect, they must be corrected'. File picture.
Image: Trevor Samson

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said there is no basis to suggest the rights of scientists were being undermined amid the public storm over comments by Professor Glenda Gray.

Mkhize last week criticised Gray after she was quoted by News24 as saying that government’s lockdown strategy was “nonsensical and unscientific”.

Gray is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee and chairperson of the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and her comments appeared to bolster the arguments of those opposed to the continued lockdown.

She was, however, criticised by Mkhize specifically for her comments about malnutrition.

Around 180 academics came out in support of Gray after acting director-general of the health department, Dr Anban Pillay, called for the MRC to investigate her for the comments.

The MRC, following a meeting with Gray, has since cleared her.

Addressing members of the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday, Mkhize said he had clarified the matter and assured that there was no threat to freedom of speech for academics and scientists.

“I did note there were other academics who had written a statement in the public, however I thought the assumption that there was any threat to freedom of expression or academic freedom was misunderstood.

“There is no such threat. Every scientist is very welcome, every academic is welcome, to express their views. Certainly, as in a normal democracy, if anybody argues and expresses their view they should be understood and respected as such. But when those views are incorrect and factually incorrect, they must be corrected,” said Mkhize.

He said the public should be properly led on a scientific basis.

Mkhize said there was no need to grandstand, politicise or try to score political points using the pandemic.

“Whenever there is any sense of disinformation or inaccurate information, we will step up to the fore and get it corrected,” said Mkhize.

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