Archbishop Makgoba slams government for 'poisoned health care' over Covid-19

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba hit out at government in his Easter sermon on Saturday
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba hit out at government in his Easter sermon on Saturday
Image: Mabuti Kali

Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba used his Easter sermon in Cape Town on Saturday to lob missives against the government for failing to protect the poor during the Covid-19 pandemic and not being able to roll out an effective vaccination plan.

Makgoba who delivered the sermon at St George’s cathedral drew an analogy between the message of Easter from a “shift out of darkness ... characterised by betrayal, denials, death, the brutal display of state power, and the desire of religious authorities to destroy a force that was disruptive for them”, and the country’s response to the pandemic amid allegations of rampant corruption and delays in the vaccine rollout.

He said while President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced this week that agreements with pharmaceutical companies were enough to vaccinate about 41 million people, he was sceptical about the scope and reach of the rollout.

“Make no mistake: we are a world-class country. Our medical scientists are world-class. Ten years ago, we built world-class soccer stadiums and ran a world-class World Cup. Distributing and administering vaccines is not rocket science: it’s just a matter of getting the logistics right. If humankind can send a spacecraft 470 million kilometres to Mars and gently drop a landing rover onto the planet’s surface, surely South Africans can come up with a co-ordinated plan to collaborate in getting vaccines quickly to every corner of our country? 

“But in view of the fragility of some of our health infrastructure, the president will understand if I am sceptical of how quickly the rollout will progress. Those covered by the private health-care industry and on medical aids can feel more confident. But I am worried that, as is often the case, it is the poor and the marginalised who will suffer.”

He said globally, vaccine nationalism was impacting the most vulnerable in society.

“Internationally, the prospects are looking bad. Vaccine nationalism has already taken hold. A quick check this week showed that while the US had vaccinated 16% of its population, we had covered less than half a percent of ours, and many countries haven’t seen vaccines at all. As I told Dr Fauci in a recent letter, the voluntary vaccine supply mechanisms, such as COVAX, and the bilateral agreements used to procure vaccines across the world, are failing. And they are failing especially for the Global South, where we can with justification say that the poor of the world are suffering from vaccine apartheid.”

Makgoba said political corruption has “poisoned public health-care systems”.

“We know that political leadership has been woefully lacking in the worst areas affected: shame on those who have left hospitals and clinics short of people, equipment and protection. I have read that on the current strategy it would take 18 years to vaccinate our entire present population! We cannot allow that to happen.”

He added: “The stresses created by the pandemic have sadly sometimes brought out the worst in us. There are those who have stolen from the common purse, who have plumbed the depths of the scandalous corruption in our society, who have stolen the very breath of those struggling to breathe in intensive-care units. They have denied others, especially the poor, the means to cope with the effects of the pandemic. Their behaviour is all the more sad when we think back on how we hoped that by throwing us together to face a common crisis, the pandemic would make us rise to the occasion by creating a different future.”

Makgoba said there were however, beacons of hope delivered via the sacrifices of front-line health workers and the country’s top medical professionals.

“And yet — and yet, we recall again the good that we have seen emerge from this crisis, the sacrifices of front-line health workers, of those who ensure that we have food on our tables and keep our environment clean, of all who take great risks and with generosity of spirit have kept us going. Their dedication is perhaps epitomised best by those in hospitals and other institutions who have gone above and beyond their everyday duties, and have taken the trouble to hold up cellphones to enable those who are ill or dying to speak to members of their families.

“Above all, we can celebrate the achievements of the world’s scientists, who have achieved the extraordinary feat of developing, in record time, vaccines to fight a pandemic which threatened to destroy us all. We owe much to our scientists, including the world-class researchers SA has brought to this task.”

Makgoba said his call was to people to challenge the government.

“My call today, to all people of faith, and those of no faith, is: we are never alone; let us renew our determination, let us remember our resilience, let us bemoan the corruption which brings death, let us weep for the 52,000 people who have died in the pandemic so far. But above all, let us challenge our government to be transparent and fair in the rollout, for while vaccines will not do away with Covid-19, they will help us cope better with it. And let us take those vaccines as soon as they become available.”


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