Reverend Kenneth Meshoe should be ashamed of himself for being economical with the truth
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Johannesburg - Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the president of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), recently sought to dispel perceptions he was one of the high profile South Africans who tested positive for Covid-19 and survived it.
In a story published by Sunday Independent on May 17, the ACDP MP denied testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
He also accused various people and organisations of fiddling with his results, or spreading fake news about it, in a bid to use him to de-stigmatise the pandemic.
Using strong language, and making legal threats in between, Meshoe cast aspersions on the Department of Health, accusing it of “predetermining” a positive Covid-19 result for political reasons.
“Remember at the time many black people believed the disease was meant for other racial groups, the politician came up with a strategy that would encourage black people to be cautious of the new virus,” Meshoe said.
“This is a kind of a mystery. Is it possible to be positive and not infect others?” asked Meshoe? “Before receiving the results from the department, I told my family the outcome of the tests would be predetermined as ‘the politician’ was involved. I isolated myself for more than 21 days and still didn’t get any symptoms of Covid-19."
He added: "Today is the 56th day (May 6) and I am still as healthy as I was last year this time. This is a kind of a mystery. Is it possible to be positive and not infect others?” asked Meshoe.
“Before receiving the results from the department, I told my family that the outcome of the tests would be predetermined as ‘the politician’ was involved. I isolated myself for more than 21 days and still didn't get any symptoms of Covid-19.”
He also accused Newzroom Afrika of spreading “fake news”, and threatened to take legal action against the 24-hour channel (and its journalist) that reported he had tested positive for Covid-19 before retracting and apologising.
With his utterances, Meshoe was trying to emphasise a point that he never tested positive for the pandemic,and that he was a victim of political machinations, assisted by the Department of Health and some media organisations that spread fake news about him.
Meshoe was also at pains to highlight how “false news” that he had tested positive had negatively affected his family and church members.
However, Meshoe made an about turn two days later, on May 19. He denied he had denied testing positive nor had he accused the Department of Health of using him as a sacrificial lamb in the politicization of the pandemic.
“Mr Mokgatlhe [Sunday Independent journalist] blatantly lied when he wrote that I denied testing positive for Covid-19. I in fact did not deny that the result of the test by the Department of Health came out positive. I also did not accuse the Department of Health of using me as a guinea pig and sacrificial lamb in the politicization of the pandemic, as he asserts. It is also not true that I accused journalists of spreading fake news. I stated to him that Newzroom Afrika had reported fake news as I had – at the time of the announcement by them – not even been tested,” said Meshoe.
“I told Mr Mokgatlhe that a man who claimed to be connected to top politicians had told me that I was used as a sacrificial lamb to break the resistance of black people who refused to be screened and tested as they believed Covid-19 to be a Chinese disease, and not a disease for Africans. The ACDP Deputy President Wayne Thring correctly announced in a statement, after I had been tested by the Department of Health, that my test result came back positive. This led to me making a public statement that I would go re-test at a private medical laboratory.”
But there is a huge gap between what Meshoe’s statement said and what he said in an interview with Sunday Independent, which has been audio recorded.
In it, the ACDP leader clearly denies testing positive, accuses the Health Department of fiddling with his results, laments “how fake news has affected my family”, and threatens legal action.
Below is a transcript of part of the interview as per the audio clip.
“No no the statement that was posted by one of our TV stations. I didn’t see that before I came to grips with it, somebody sent me a snapshot of the retraction. Two to three days later, two half days later I got a call from the Department of Health telling me that because I attended the conference in Bloemfontein and they heard that I was talkative they also want to test me. Now, I could have refused to be tested by them because they did not ask where were you tested that gave positive results, they didn’t ask that question. So I had my suspicions. The suspicion I had was that there was maybe there was a politician involved in the whole thing because I don’t think under normal circumstances a journalist would do something like this.
“But then when they said the reason they want to come and test me is because on the 18th I was in Parliament where we met with the president and other political leaders and people obviously after hearing that they were asking questions, is the president infected? Are other leaders infected? And they said the query, particularly about the president, people want to know, we want to test you because people are asking questions. That was the main thing that made me succumb to their tune because the name of the president was used, otherwise I would not have accepted because I was healthy.
“Now the issue… the official who came, the one who was asking the questions said to me you look healthy and I said I am healthy and he said sometimes this virus hibernates and sometimes it doesn’t manifest for 14 days, go into self-isolation and quarantine for 14 days and then we will see what happens. Indeed I self-isolated, closer to the 14 days I got calls from the department asking me if there were any symptoms, I said no I don’t have any symptoms, I am as healthy as I was before. Then after 14 days they said in some extreme cases people don’t show symptoms for up to 21 days. So continue and let's see if the symptoms will appear. Indeed I obliged, self-quarantined, 21 days came and passed, 30 days came and passed and today is day number 46 and I’m still as healthy as I was last year this time.
“This is kind of a mystery because I asked if is there anybody who is positive who has not had symptoms for 30 days in the world, and they said they don’t know. The president and leaders of political parties went to test and they came back negative. Now I ask, is it possible for someone to be positive for 30 days and not infect others? How is that possible?
“Obviously when the department came to test me we already had our suspicions, we were almost confused about what is happening. After they tested I said to my family I suspect that the results will be in line with what was in the news because if there is a politician involved in this whole thing and the results came back negative there would be a confrontation. So my suspicion was that there would be pre-determined results, and indeed that was the case.
“So because the international community, not just South Africans, was given fake news about my condition, which obviously affected my family, affected members of the church. My son when he goes for groceries says: 'Friends of mine at PicknPay who always talk to me now run away from me.' It hurt him. And then I would have people in the church who say you know we don’t understand this whole thing because you are with us all the time and if you were sick we would have noticed that you are sick but nobody in the church can say we saw the pastor sick.
“They said some of the people at work, some of our colleagues whom we have been working with don’t want to work with us anymore because they heard that I met Rev Meshoe and I attended church with Rev Meshoe. It’s a very sad story that has affected many people. I got a call from my family in Rustenburg on WhatsApp video, the way they congregated around a cellphone, it was heartbreaking, saying are you really well and saying now we can see you are joking, but were you really sick? So there is a lot that one can talk about how fake news has affected my family, my close friends and members of the church.
“I said to my family after the lockdown we want to go to the root of this matter. Who cooked this story? We want to know… ACDP and myself we have never had any issues with the media, we have been friends and we defended their rights, go anywhere but this thing touched me so much that I would want to know the journalists I can trust. If ntate Mokgatlhe stabbed me in the back, when I see ntate Mokgatlhe I need to protect my back because I don’t know when you are going to stab or kill me, I don’t know what you are going to do to me. We definitely want to get to the root of the problem to find out who started this and with whom?”
While Meshoe’s concern about how the Covid-19 stigma affected his family and church is understandable, there are fundamental problems with his doublespeak or attempt to lie his way out of a hole he has dug for himself.
To the extent that he denied testing positive, and accused the Department of Health of fiddling with his results, seemingly in a desperate attempt to brush the stigma off himself and his family, Meshoe ought to have known that there might be repercussions.
And to the extent that he chose to impugn the professional integrity of the Sunday Independent and its journalist, rather than prove his questionable claims, is shameful in the extreme. For a public figure like him, Meshoe ought to understand that his doublespeak or attempt to use Covid-19 as a political football is doing more harm than good.
He is perpetuating the very stigma he claims he’s trying to fight. The good reverend should do himself a favour and read the scripture of John 8:31-32, which would remind him that “the Truth Will Set You Free”.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'"
* Piet Rampedi is assistant editor at The Sunday Independent