Health boss wants investigation into scientist critical of SA's lockdown

Prof Glenda Gray was criticised by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize this week

22 May 2020 - 22:04 By Liezl Human and Nathan Geffen
Professor Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.
Professor Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.
Image: GroundUp/South African Medical Research Council

Dr Anban Pillay, the acting director-general of the health department, has requested an investigation into the conduct of Prof Glenda Gray, the president of the Medical Research Council (MRC), claiming that she has “made a number of false allegations against government”.

GroundUp reported that these concerns were described in a letter dated May 21 written by Pillay, addressed to Prof Johnny Mahlangu, chairperson of the MRC.

The letter states that allegations Gray has recently made in the media “are damaging to government’s response to Covid-19”.

This comes after an interview with News24 in which Gray is quoted criticising the government’s lockdown approach as “unscientific”. Gray is quoted saying that it seems as if government is “sucking regulations out of their thumb and implementing rubbish”.

“These media statements cause confusion … and are likely to erode public support for behaviour change” the letter reads.

Pillay also states that he has received calls about Gray’s conduct as president of the MRC on matters other than her statements to the media.

“I therefore recommend that the board investigates the conduct [of Gray] on this matter given the harm it has caused to SA’s Covid-19 response,” wrote Pillay.

Lwazi Manzi, spokesperson for the health department, did not respond to queries or answer calls by the time of publication. Neither Mahlangu nor Gray wished to comment.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, a leading medical researcher based at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, has come out in support of Gray, describing her as a “national treasure”.

She said that Gray had raised important issues for the “common good” and in the “best interest of the country”.

The response should not be a witch-hunt but a discussion so that the government, including the minister of health, Zweli Mkhize, can find the best way to respond to the epidemic. She emphasised that scientists must have the freedom to speak their minds.

This article was originally published by GroundUp. You can read an editorial from the publication's editor, Nathan Geffen, here.