SAHRC raises concerns over potential abuse of rights of unvaccinated citizens

The nation is facing the prospect of vaccination-only facilities and buildings in South Africa, with the debate heightening after Sunday’s announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the government was considering this approach.

Jody Ziervogel gets his COVID-19 vaccine shot at the ATlone Stadium drive-through facility in Cape Town on 2 September 2021. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - While the South African Human Rights Commission said that it did not have a position on the vaccination passport issue as yet, its chairperson, Bongani Majola, has raised concern about the potential abuse of the rights of the unvaccinated.

The nation is facing the prospect of vaccination-only facilities and buildings in South Africa, with the debate heightening after Sunday’s announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the government was considering this approach.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 vaccine passport matter is a polarising subject, with many questioning the laws which the government could use to substantiate a ban of unvaccinated persons from public facilities.

Majola said that if people were denied access to places, this would have to be done according to Section 36 of the Constitution, which dealt with the law of general application.

However, he stressed that this must be justifiable and reasonable in a democratic society.

He explained through an example of unvaccinated persons seeking medical help from public hospitals and clinics under such circumstances.

"There is a right to access healthcare and I don’t think it would be constitutional to take away the right when there are less restrictive ways of ensuring that the virus does not spread."

He told Eyewitness News that the commission would state its position once the matter was no longer theoretical and when it was known what form or shape the COVID-19 vaccine passport would take.

The government and other sections of society have been pushing back against anti-vaxxers as fewer people than anticipated show up to get jabs, raising fears that the country could struggle to reach herd immunity.

VACCINE PASSPORT FOR BENEFIT OF ALL

A media ethics and law professor said that the country’s laws empowered the government to enforce vaccine passports and that the move would be justifiable.

Director at the Centre for Medical Ethics & Law at Stellenbosch University, Keymanthri Moodley, said that there were various laws that the government could use to substantiate its decision to introduce vaccine passports.

"The most important piece of legislation is the Disaster Management Act. That has been implemented since the start of the pandemic. In addition, the Constitution also supports limitations of rights under these circumstances."

She said that the test of justifiability would also pass given that COVID-19 was a public health crisis.

"Having a vaccine passport or a vaccine mandate is not intended to punish people, it's actually intended to protect people, it's for the benefit of all in society."

Moodley stated that it was important for people to understand that the country’s hospitals were full of unvaccinated people at the moment, while available vaccines could expire, making it all the more critical that those who qualified to take the jab do so to protect themselves and others.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.