The ‘small’ matter of life and death

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Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane

I HATE self-referencing, but hardly a quarter-year after I wrote here against our state’s “technicisation” of death, respect of those killed and slowly dying security forces members at its mercy; and we are back there in one quick stroke thanks to the Health minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane.

As parents filled private radio airwaves and social media with pictures and stories of young children who were taken ill with an array of physical signs of ailment, after being vaccinated at schools in a government immunisation campaign against measles and rubella,  Dr Monyamane called the national media and told them that the parents ought to have expected some “side effects” since they were forewarned about then, and informed their offspring would be vaccinate only subject to parental consent.

The good doctor who boasted of a 30-year unblemished experience to the befuddled journos some of whom were affected parents, also protested that the social media pictures were not of Basotho children but plucked from books he knew, and they were also of “other Africa” beyond Southern Africa, even European; while some actually showed burns, which were not side-effects of the vaccine.

He shocked many when he said the one child reported as dead from the vaccine actually succumbed to malnutrition – a claim which has since been denied by the parents in a radio interview. Two other deaths, attributed to the side effects, have since been reported in similar phone-in interviews.  The minister very early mollycoddled the scribes by telling them he had confidence they were not part of the social media posts on this affair, only for some of them to tell him they were actually among the aggrieved parents, and mothers at that! He steadfastly denied that the post-vaccination suffering of the children could be attributed to the vaccine; while also jabbing that unlike others including the invited newshounds who pretended to be sangomas or prophets, he wouldn’t hazard guessing what caused the children’s condition; except that the composers of lies about the vaccine were beginning to believe their own compositions.

Meanwhile a coordinator of concerned parents who is also a human rights lawyer and an eminent non-state-actors’ representative  thereafter claimed, on radio talk show about their campaign which includes plans to sue government, discovering that the US Centre for Disease Control recorded recent years’ fatalities from side effects of the vaccine.

Warning and threatening the reporters that he was an activist like them, and that he could equally combative as he claimed they were, Dr Monyamane contested that the crisis should not be tied to some assumed character and performance of the government, and trotted out the successes of the prime minister in rolling out health services and far surpassing targets in areas including the test-and-treat campaign.  He repeatedly referred to one main opposition legislator in the audience with each round of preaching to the media in the name of answering their questions.  He refused to give direction and commitment of the ministry and government, save to repeat that if children were not taken to the nearest government health centres the families’ plight couldn’t be addressed. He didn’t even faintly estimate anything like explanation or apology, save to spiritedly deny any possibility of a link between his vaccination campaign, which he warned could not be halted by social media and other din of protests, and the children’s fate.

Clearly the minister saw this as a silly little distraction that was not any weightier than a fly on a moving car’s windscreen, unaware of its impending tragic end.  He amply displayed a complacency of being answerable to no-one but himself, despite the centrality of accountability to democracy by which government is born, and the likes of him get their jobs and earn their bread.  The commonly touted three legs of good governance are transparency, accountability and responsiveness; and here minister Monyane, of the ministry of life and death that he takes so lightly, has failed abysmally – unless his ‘’barking” at media, parents, and the nation is his ideal of responsiveness, through apparent concealment.  The minister made no effort to placate the fury and allay the fears of affected families through the media, which he consigned to enemies of the government and himself; charging that electioneering spawned (opposition) desperation characterised by things like claims of the vaccine’s effects on children.  This is a third scandal under minister Monyamane’s watch – following that of social media flighting of a mutilated patients’ private parts and unsanctioned removal of a woman’s womb and destruction of her marriage – and the minister does not seem to be any wiser or equal to the challenges.  Some have called upon him to resign, but he is certainly not cut from that cloth.

Yet Dr Monyamane is not an aberration. He is cast in the mould of the state bearers that has been placed at the centre of our political psyche over the one generation years since our return to constitutionalism in 1993.  This is the “saviour cadre” mould, as they speak of, and project, themselves in public affairs  – the persons who control our fate while claiming that they weren’t even interested in state politics, and were roped in to “lend a helping hand” in fixing our chaotic national affairs. One such is Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, and the other was the former Finance minister Timothy Thahane of the “residual value” cars and, the statement of financial affairs, and bloc farming controversies.  In keeping with this “helping hand” ethos, an increasing number of professionals were infiltrated into the Senate as a conduit to a cabinet seat since 1998, and some ended up contesting elections under the prime minister’s party ticket.

Sadly, with the rare exception of former diplomat-cum-foreign minister Mohlabi Tsekoa, all of them from Pontšo Sekatle who went on to threaten street vendors with state violence, has remained a stranglehold on local government and recently privatised  it with a law that allows her to call its elections when she wants, through to ‘Mamphono Khaketla of ghost schools and Bidvest notoriety, and now Monyamane of vaccination fury – they have taken their non-electivity to mean accounting to nobody, and have displayed greater arrogance than even those who came through the grassroots, though Ms Sekatle was later bequeathed a safe constituency by the prime minister.  Dr Monyamane is extreme in playing with lives, calling on parents to bring him evidence of causality and correlation between his (ministry’s) acts and their children’s pain and even death, playing erudite technician with their lives while vulgarly and outrageously swearing he is going for their children even more. The silence of his master is loud and killing, and shows only that this government, if not every other under this brand of politics, is in free fall, and cannot be trusted to save anyone if it cannot save itself from wallowing in the dross of gross immorality that we are witnessing.

I have since read a damage-control story in the Sunday Express where the minister pretends to apologise, and it certainly sounds like a whitewash that it – no iota of sincerity whatsoever! He says he got worked up when he saw the matter being politicised, and regrets the confusion caused by his manner of speaking.  Yet it was he that politicised it, addressing politicians instead of news writers he had caused to leave their desks and come to hear him. Confusion is a state of mind of not knowing what to do, being mesmerised; but parents, the nation, and the insulted and offended media are not confused – they are hurt, angry, and worked, and they know exactly what to do, and some have started.

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