Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has been captured on video praying about vaccines being “of the devil” and corrupting people's DNA — with his comments raising the hackles of one of the country's top vaccine experts.
He was speaking at an event at Tembisa Hospital in Gauteng on Thursday.
In what his office confirmed as a prayer, the nearly two-minute video which is circulating widely on social media has Mogoeng starting out by saying: “Whatever phase is said to be coming, Lord I judge it, I run it down in the name of Jesus. I lock out every demon of Covid-19.”
This is in apparent reference to comments health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize made on Wednesday that the country was officially in its “second wave” of Covid-19 infections.
But Mogoeng then switches immediately to talk about vaccines, touching on issues raised in anti-vax circles.
“I lock out any vaccine that is not of you,” he prays. “If there be any vaccine that is of the devil, meant to infuse triple-six in the lives of people, meant to corrupt their DNA ... Any such vaccine, Lord God almighty, may it be destroyed by fire in the name of Jesus.”
Wits University virology professor Barry Schoub, who heads the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, told TimesLIVE: “It is unfortunate that someone of that stature is misleading people because vaccines are such a major part of controlling this epidemic and it is unfortunate that someone with such influence is opposing efforts to control it.”
He said he had worked in vaccinology for decades and, often, there were two kinds of people who oppose vaccines. The first was an anti-vaxxer activist group that “actively opposes all types of vaccinations based on conspiracy theories and unproven claims”. The second are “vaccine-hesitant people” who are “genuinely nervous”, and who become vulnerable to fake information that is spread.
In this context, he said, Mogoeng's words might create hesitancy among those who were previously hopeful of the vaccines.
“The former group [anti-vaxxers] you cannot convince. The success rate is not good. But the second group, the hesitant ones, need to be reassured and comforted that vaccines are safe,” said Schoub.
He said the “balance between risk and benefit has to be vastly in favour of benefit, which is why all vaccines go through such vigorous trials to ensure safety”. He added that the development of a Covid-19 vaccine had been shown to be “extraordinarily safe”.
The fact that they use a novel technology — known as Messenger RNA — was “all the more reason for even more rigorous examination”.
The spokesperson for the office of the chief justice, Nathi Mncube, confirmed on Thursday evening that Mogoeng was speaking at the event at the hospital.
“He didn't make a statement. He was praying. It wasn't a speech. He was praying after he had given his speech. It's a prayer to God,” he said.
Mncube said Mogoeng was speaking at press briefing on Friday morning on unrelated issues, but that people could ask about any matter.
Mogoeng's prayer drew mixed reaction on social media, with some applauding and others criticising the judge for his comments.
On Tuesday, Britain became the first country to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNtech, to its population.
In SA, experts told The Sunday Times the country needs a Covid-19 vaccine by April but the government would have to be cautious in choosing a vaccine best suited to the country.
“We have to spend our money on vaccines wisely as we don't have the deep pockets of wealthy nations,” Covid-19 ministerial advisory vaccines committee member Prof Helen Rees said.
Rees chairs SA's health products regulatory authority and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni told parliament last week that the government has until December 15 to pay the R500m required for it to be part of the Covax global Covid-19 vaccine distribution scheme — giving SA early access to a batch of vaccines.
In the rest of his prayer, Mogoeng took aim at the corrupt, and against people who want to “eat along with their friends”.
“Any legalising agent, Lord, for wickedness in this nation, for wickedness in Africa and across the nations of the world, Lord God almighty, send your angels, send even your angel of the media, send all the angels of fire, the angel of judgment, the angel of the wings of the Lord, to enforce your will. In the name of Jesus, no more suffering, Lord. No more suffering.
“Revive the economy of this country. For you have told us, Lord, there are many hidden minerals still that will only surface when righteousness emerges.
“My Father and my God, if there be any leader in this nation who is serving himself or herself to the exclusion of the people, pretending to be a good leader, you know them. Accept they repent. Judge them without delay.
“My God, I say it and will never apologise for praying, judge the evil ones who want to corrupt this country and eat along with their friends. Time for their judgment is now, in the name of Jesus,” he said.