Beware, SA: bid to eject Prof Gray is a witch-hunt
We aren’t throwing people out of windows Russian-style, but we may just have been set on this horrific path
Defenestration, the act of killing someone by throwing them out of a window, is in vogue in Russia these days. On April 22, Alexander Shulepov, a doctor, posted a video online saying he had been forced to continue working after testing positive for Covid-19. Shulepov and a colleague also complained about lack of protective gear for frontline emergency workers.
Ten days later, on May 2, Shulepov “fell” out of a second-floor window of the Novousmanskaya hospital. Shulepov was the third healthcare worker who had voiced unhappiness with working conditions to mysteriously “fall” out of hospital windows in the country in those two weeks.
Elena Nepomnyashchaya, head doctor at a hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, fell out of a window during a meeting about turning the hospital into a coronavirus treatment facility. Nepomnyashchaya reportedly opposed the plan because of equipment shortages. On April 24, Natalya Lebedeva, head of emergency medicine at Star City, the training base for Russian cosmonauts, also died after a fall from a window.
How does a country get to a point where it is allegedly throwing people out of windows because they hold an opposing view? It starts slowly. It starts routinely. It starts with a witch-hunt here and there. Then you start throwing people out of windows.
You can’t throw doctors out of windows in SA, but you can start a trend towards doing exactly that unless you are pulled up quickly and effectively. Dr Anban Pillay, the acting director-general of health, may have set us on this horrific path with his letter to the Medical Research Council on Friday. Pillay has requested that the board of the MRC conduct an investigation into Prof Glenda Gray, its president, claiming that she has “made a number of false allegations against government”. This comes after Gray told News24 that it seems as if government is “sucking regulations out of their thumb and implementing rubbish”.
For those who have not done so, it is worth reading minister of health Zweli Mkhize’s rebuttal of her views, released on Wednesday. It is calm, factual, measured, sublimely reasoned, and obliterates Gray’s emotional diatribe. If anyone comes out of this scrap looking like a thumb-suck artist, it is Gray and not Mkhize.
To my mind Gray over-reached in two ways. Having made her dissatisfaction about the regulations known to the Ministerial Advisory Committee, she was tasked with preparing an advisory on the MAC’s concerns. It would have ended up with the minister in a week’s time.
What happens when your scientific credentials, and even your advice, are used to further devious plots to control and subjugate the populace?
There was no need to have then begun a public and intemperate campaign on the same issue, thus embarrassing Mkhize, the very person she has to work with. Secondly, she was totally wrong about the number of cases of malnutrition presenting at Baragwanath Hospital or elsewhere. She was thumb-sucking. It’s terrible.
Which brings us to Pillay’s short but menacing, chilling letter. The line that gives you goosebumps is this: “I have also received calls from persons regarding Prof Gray’s conduct at the MRC on other matters which I will share with once I receive more details from them. I therefore recommend that the Board investigates the conduct of the President on this matter given the harm it has caused to South Africa’s Covid response.”
In essence, it is not enough that Gray has spoken out about the lockdown regulations and their nonsensical nature. Now Pillay is building a case to have her removed from her job. Allegations, grudges, insinuations from anyone who may have them are being dug up and directed towards the board to remove her from her position. It is the most vindictive, Stalinist action I have yet seen in an official memo in SA. It is chilling.
It unmasks Pillay. On May 17 he told News24: “The members of the MAC only have experts on health issues so they must not think that because Covid is a health problem, suddenly they become the advisory committee for all government departments.”
The question then is: what happens when your scientific credentials, and even your advice, are used to further devious plots to control and subjugate the populace? Should scientists then shut up in the face of such abuse of their expertise and their work?
Finally, it just doesn’t make sense that Gray is being targeted so ferociously. Another member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, Prof Shabir Madhi, has consistently slammed the lockdown and said that continuing it will not stop transmissions and will, instead, prolong the damage that it is causing. He has also said the modelling of how many people would contract Covid-19 and die was “flawed and illogical and made wild assumptions”. There has not been a single letter written to him to step down from the MAC or to reprimand him. So what’s going on here?
It’s a witch-hunt. President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mkhize must stop it unless the instruction for it comes from them. If that happens then we better start putting burglar bars on our windows. This is how democracies die.