Johannesburg - Before the tenure of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng comes to an end this year, he will have to face charges brought against him by health advocacy group, African Alliance, following his recent controversial claims about a Covid-19 vaccine.
In December, while Justice Mogoeng was leading a group in prayer at Tembisa hospital, he said: “If there be any (Covid-19) vaccine that is the work of the devil meant to infuse 666 in the lives of the people, meant to corrupt their DNA … may it be destroyed by fire.”
He openly defended this stance, which led to the African Alliance filing a formal complaint against him with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) on Wednesday.
The group said the chief justice had repeatedly made these utterances without any factual basis concerning the danger of the vaccine.
In doing so, as a highly visible and senior member of society he was undermining the public’s confidence in life-saving and scientifically-tested vaccines, the group argued.
“Let’s be clear: vaccines are not made by the devil and do not change your DNA,” African Alliance head Tian Johnson, who submitted the complaint, said.
He added that the real danger was that statements such as those made by Justice Mogoeng lowered public trust in vaccines. “And that hurts all of us,” he said.
According to Johnson, the chief justice should be aware that regulators such as the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority exist to ensure that products like vaccines are safe, effective and of high quality.
“It is highly likely that the chief justice himself is alive and healthy today – and free to promote such baseless conspiracy theories – as a direct result of him being vaccinated as a child in Koffiekraal Village, in the North West province.
“Today, hundreds of people will die from Covid-19. When South Africa gets access to a Covid-19 vaccine, we need as many people as we can to take those vaccines,” Johnson said.
He added that the more people could be vaccinated against Covid-19, the less chance there was of all becoming infected with the virus. “Misinformation about vaccines only puts that goal farther out of reach.”
In making unfounded claims about vaccines, the African Alliance believes Mogoeng acted in a manner incompatible with or unbecoming of a judicial officer.
“We call on the Judicial Conduct Committee to urgently review and deal with the complaint to protect the public investments made in a Covid-19 vaccine,” Johnson said.
The African Alliance said it was also concerned that Justice Mogoeng was just one of several prominent public leaders and political figures that have peddled misinformation during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“What public officials say matters. When what they say puts lives at risk and spreads dangerous lies about vaccines, we will hold them to account.
“We expect government and political parties to do the same.”
Johnson said since the onset of Covid-19, the African Alliance has embarked on a community engagement programme to ensure that those hardest hit by the pandemic had accurate information about it and its potential treatment.
In his complaint to the commission, Johnson said it is unbecoming of a judicial officer to openly make dangerous statements. He submitted that the chief justice breached the judicial code of conduct when he made the anti-vaccine remarks.
He reiterated that Justice Mogoeng’s words carried immense weight because of the position he holds. The words also undermined national and international public health messages that the vaccines were safe and necessary.
Johnson said he was also concerned that the chief justice’s words would make it easier for people to mistrust vaccination and to spread fake news regarding it.