Violent protests disrupt vaccine rollout for the elderly in the Free State

17 May 2021 - 22:25 By Shonisani Tshikalange and ALEX PATRICK
Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah were among Western Cape senior citizens who were vaccinated on Monday. With them are Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.
Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah were among Western Cape senior citizens who were vaccinated on Monday. With them are Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.
Image: Esa Alexander

Day one of the phase two Covid-19 vaccine rollout for the elderly was disrupted as frustration over poor service delivery boiled over into violent protests on Monday at Mangaung in the Free State.

A grade 7 school pupil was killed during the protests when a security guard, attempting to scare off protesters intent on attacking a warehouse, fired a warning shot.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Monday evening that the phase two rollout “proceeded reasonably well today, notwithstanding some challenges experienced in the respective provinces, of which load-shedding and violent protests in the Free State were the most impactful.” 

The province has seen a rising number of Covid-19 infections.

Netwerk24 reported that people who arrived at a designated vaccination facility in the morning were turned away.

Provincial health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said a decision had been taken to move vials of vaccine earmarked for Boikhutso old age home to another site due to the protests.

Day one of the rollout saw 264 people vaccinated in the province.

“There were no wastage of the vaccine. The province has taken a decision that because of the shutdown and service delivery protest in Bloemfontein, they are going to move the vials that were earmarked for that area into another site that is ready. So far we’ve got about 97 sites that we have prepared in the province from where we are going to be rolling out the vaccine until the end of June,” said Mvambi.

He said a site not being able to vaccinate people affected the department badly as one vaccine not done was one too many.

“We want to reach targets every day. We have received about 1,170 vials in the province and our strategy has been that we don’t want to order a lot of vaccines because of the scarcity of the vaccine in the country but we want to order something that we can manage.

“We have been preparing sites throughout the province and we don’t want to waste the vaccine. We want to apply it prudently ... We are vaccinating 67% of the population, it's 288,000 older people that we have identified in the province that are going to be vaccinated,” he said.

Professor Theo Neethling from the University of Free State’s department of political studies and governance had harsh words for the provincial government on the stalled rollout. Neethling said he was worried when he heard that there was not a vaccine rollout in the city.

“The fact is the Free State infection rate is high, it's not in the news like the Western Cape and Gauteng but we are high comparatively and we have been second-highest for a week or two.

“Under such circumstances we need provincial government up and running and they need to get things done. [What happened today] is just a reflection of what is going on at provincial level.

“We say the Western Cape rollout started well with [Archbishop Emeritus Desmond] Tutu getting vaccinated. If he was in the Free State he would have come and seen a closed shop as far as we're concerned. It's not good news for the Free State .

“We had a tough day in Mangaung. The protest was about people's frustration boiling over as every aspect of the municipal government is just absolutely nowhere, from refuse collection, to water issues to the filling of potholes. The fact that this coincided with the vaccine rollout issue is no coincidence. The Free State is not well, economically there is high youth unemployment and the reason is that the provincial government is weak — dysfunctional.”

He said in a normal democracy the government would be removed and replaced, as had happened in Nelson Mandela Bay.

“I teach political risk. The Free State is exceptionally high risk and no local or international investor will want to invest in the province.”

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