Health Minister Zweli Mkhize considers the Professor Glenda Gray matter closed and denied that academic freedom and freedom of expression are under threat.
Mkhize and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma briefed the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Gray, the president of the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), came under fire over comments in which she criticised some of the government’s lockdown regulations as “unscientific”.
In the interview, she claimed there were increased malnutrition cases in children at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. She later clarified her comment.
Gray also clarified that she had not criticised the lockdown or the extension of the lockdown, saying it was, in fact, critical. She emphasised that her comments related to some of the regulations.
Meanwhile, acting director-general of the Department of Health Anban Pillay wrote to the SAMRC, asking for an investigation into Gray.
The SAMRC responded on 22 May and apologised for Gray’s comments.
On Tuesday, though, the SAMRC said it had investigated and found that Gray didn’t transgress any of its policies.
Several academics came out in support of Gray amid public concern that the government was trying to silence critical voices from the scientific community.
Mkhize told MPs he got a call from Gray, who said she wanted to discuss the matter and would retract her comments.
“Let’s leave the issue at that,” he said.
Noting the fears expressed about the government clamping down on academic freedom, Mkhize said: “There is no basis to suggest any interference with academic freedom.”
He said any academics and scientists are “very welcome to express their views”, but when there are factual inaccuracies, it must be corrected.
He said there was no need for political grandstanding – the public must be informed.
FF Plus MP Armand Cloete said in China “people were muted and not allowed to ask questions”. He asked if the government would support the investigation, which some countries had asked for, into China’s handling of the spread of the virus.
Mkhize said they had noted the calls for an investigation.
“But we wouldn’t really be part of that call,” he said.
He said they “noted the lessons” of the “good work they [China] did to contain the virus”.