Storm in parliament as EFF demands 'racial breakdown' of Covid-19 stats

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa demanded a racial breakdown of SA's Covid-19 victims on Wednesday, causing an uproar in parliament's first sitting since the start of lockdown. File photo.
EFF MP Naledi Chirwa demanded a racial breakdown of SA's Covid-19 victims on Wednesday, causing an uproar in parliament's first sitting since the start of lockdown. File photo.
Image: Twitter/Naledi Chirwa

The EFF on Wednesday caused a storm in the first National Assembly sitting since the Covid-19 lockdown by demanding that health minister Zweli Mkhize provide a “racial breakdown” of all people who have contracted coronavirus.

MP Naledi Chirwa wanted to know “how many black people have been infected and how many have died”, as well as “how many white people have been infected and how many have died”.

While the minister was attending to the question, Chirwa interjected, demanding nothing but “numbers”.

The sitting quickly degenerated as several EFF MPs jumped in to emphasise Chirwa’s question. These included EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu and MPs Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who accused the minister of ducking the question.

But National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise was having none of it.

Chirwa fired the first salvo: "Minister, in the UK, race-based stats were able to bring to the fore that black people are four times more likely to get coronavirus than white people. And in the US, race-based stats were able to expose the divide when it comes to access to healthcare. Then in Canada, race-based stats were used to predict and preempt hotspots.

"Unfortunately we have not received such a breakdown in South Africa. Can the minister please give us the numbers?"

Mkhize answered by saying the spread of Covid-19 had nothing to do with one’s race but was rather about “social conditions” such as observing social distancing and adhering to all safety measures such as wearing masks.

“What we have seen as being factors that are important is more the question of comorbidities and is also the access to quality health services,” said Mkhize, who was cut before finishing by Chirwa shouting “point of order, speaker”.

In the US, race-based stats were able to expose the divide when it comes to access to healthcare.
Naledi Chirwa

Modise called Chirwa to order, but the former Fees Must Fall activist did not budge, saying, “We want numbers”.

She claimed there was a racial breakdown available for other diseases and therefore did not understand “why not this one”.

A determined Modise said: “Honourable Chirwa, your mic will be muted because you put a question ... which in fact is being attended to, and you interrupt the response to your own question. That is out of order.”

Mkhize continued with his answer, saying that in the US more black people were contracting Covid-19 because of poor access to healthcare and their living conditions. Therefore, he said, it was inappropriate to focus on race when there were many contributing factors that determine whether or not one catches the virus.

Enter Shivambu: “On a point of order, speaker. The minister has been giving statistics in terms of the age and the areas where people have been impacted by the coronavirus. What is difficult about giving us the racial composition?”

Modise ruled him out of order, calling for Shivambu’s mic to be muted because “the minister has responded to this question”.

Ndlozi and Mkhaliphi did not agree with Modise’s assertion and pushed on with the demand for a racial breakdown. From this point things quickly spiralled out of control.

An erratic Ndlozi had a go at Modise, before the mics were muted.

“You see, speaker, it is this attitude that made you be complicit when Marikana [massacre] was occurring - of refusing to press out proper information from those...” he said, before he was cut off.

Chaos ensued, with several MPs speaking over each other until the mute function on Microsoft Teams intervened.

Modise took exception over Ndlozi’s Marikana jibe.

“I was not complicit in Marikana ... and this is not a platform to try and justify it. I have nothing to do with Marikana and therefore you cannot even drag my name into this thing,” was her emphatic closure to this episode.



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