Deon Raath, Gallo Images, Die Burger
- The South African Human Rights Commission said it received 221 complaints relating to Covid-19.
- The commission also received 452 enquiries relating to the pandemic.
- Most of the enquiries were related to mandatory vaccination in the workplace.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 led to a new category of violations being reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
In its annual Trends Analysis Report for 2020-2021, the commission said it received 221 complaints relating to Covid-19 and 452 enquiries relating to the pandemic.
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The province with the most complaints was the Free State with 64 complaints, followed by Gauteng with 57. Gauteng recorded the highest number of enquiries – 165.
In the report, the SAHRC said most of the enquiries were related to mandatory vaccination against the virus.
“The Commission, and in particular the Gauteng office, was – for a period of time – inundated with formal complaints from employees resisting coercion from their employers to be vaccinated. The intricate struggle between the right to freedom of choice and the right for everyone to be in an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being continue to dominate public discourse,” the report read.
Acting SAHRC chairperson Chantal Kissoon said at the launch of the report on Wednesday:
When the issue of vaccines first arose, we had two categories of complaints in the commission – one large category were ordinary members of the public who were anxious for what this would mean to them. This group of people had not necessarily taken any committed step as anti-vaxxers; many were people who were simply concerned about the implications for them in the workplace.
She said the commission advised those people to get more information from their workplace on vaccination policies.
“In the large majority of those cases, we did not receive any comebacks. Then there was the second category of complainants who strongly objected [to being vaccinated]. With this category, we intervened and engaged with the employer, bearing in mind that at that stage there were no clear policies.”
She said they also referred cases to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
SAHRC deputy chairperson Fatima Chohan said in retrospect it was hard to judge whether the government had overstepped when it implemented the Disaster Management Act in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are designed with a limitation in mind. In regard to the pandemic, it’s fine to look at it in hindsight now that we know a little more about the Covid-19 virus. In so far as it pertains to the right of life, you will understand that it takes precedence over other rights. And so, we have to look at those limitations within the framework of our Constitution,” Chohan said.