Durban judge's order for negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination for Mike Mabuyakhulu trial raises eyebrows
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A DURBAN High Court Judge has raised eyebrows after he issued a directive that only people who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 or who could provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test result would be allowed to attend the court case involving KwaZulu-Natal ANC deputy chairperson and former MEC, Mike Mabuyakhulu.
The move has caused quite a stir, with advocacy group Right2Know saying it had picked up a number of instances where people were cajoled into getting vaccinated against their will, sometimes with overt threats of employment termination.
Mabuyakhulu and seven co-accused are facing charges of theft, fraud and corruption over the North Sea Jazz Festival which was planned to take place in 2012 during his tenure as MEC for Economic Development and Tourism. The R28 million event that was set to be hosted in Durban did not take place. His co-accused are Caeser Mkhize, Mabheleleni Ntuli, Mzwandile Basil Ninela, Nonhlanhla Brenda Ninela, Njabulo Mbongwe Mkhize, Ntokozo Ndlovu and Nothando Zungu.
According to communication records from the High Court, the message was sent out on Wednesday, September 8, urging those who wanted to attend the trial to provide proof that they had been vaccinated. The notice also stated that those who had not been vaccinated, but who wished to attend the trial, should provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test.
“In terms of the directive issued to the parties prior to the commencement of the Trial, all parties present in Court are required to complete a form, to be retained by my Registrar, indicating whether they have had a vaccine for SARS CoV-2 infection and Covid-19 disease. Proof of vaccination is required when completing the questionnaire,” reads a communiqué attributed to Judge Mahendra Chetty. The notice further indicated that those who had not been vaccinated needed to produce a negative Covid-19 test, commonly known as a PCR test, to be able to attend court.
“As stated at the outset, the purpose for requiring details of vaccine status or a negative test result is for the general well-being of all parties in attendance at court. It is a public health imperative that all concerned share the responsibility of ensuring the safety of each of us from infection. I emphasise that the purpose of this directive is aimed at protecting all persons in court, including any party giving evidence,” said Judge Chetty in the directive.
Right2Know’s Busi Mdakane said while they were still grappling with the issue of vaccination, they were worried about the emergence of such instances.
“We have heard of companies that tell their staff to get vaccinated. But this one of the court judge is a bit worrying because the court is a public facility owned by the state,” said Mdakane, adding that they would continue to monitor developments on whether this would be limited to the Durban High Court.
Judiciary spokesperson at the Office of the Chief Justice of South Africa, Nathi Mncube, confirmed that such an instruction had been issued.
“Judge President Jappie confirms that the directive was issued by Judge Chetty after consultation with him. The objective of the directive is to minimise the spread of the virus by ensuring that all those who attend the case are protected from contracting it. It is just a measure that Judge Chetty deemed appropriate considering that the case attracted wide interest from the media and members of the public,” said Mncube.
He could not confirm whether this would apply to future court sittings where there is a risk of Covid-19 infections. Mncube pointed out that the KZN High Court could not find a court room big enough to accommodate the whole contingent of the accused and their legal representatives.
While the government has maintained that vaccination remains voluntary, some have said the stance by the high court could mark the start of a new drive for members of the public to produce vaccination certificates before accessing public facilities.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Kara said the matter would be back in court today, starting at 10am, as it had been postponed because three of the accused had applied for the charges against them to be withdrawn.
Attempts to get comment from the SA Human Rights Commission were unsuccessful.