Minister Mkhize should encourage dissenting views, not suppress them

Conflict within Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), over the past few weeks has revealed a culture of seeking to silence dissenting voices within government.

The fight against Covid-19 is one that requires plurality of voices – something that can be achieved by the 50-member advisory committee that was appointed to advise the Minister. However, if those experts who disagree with government strategy are criticized, sidelined or silenced we will rob the country of the opportunity to utilise the variety of skills that we have at our disposal.

 The point of an advisory committee is to provide expert advice to government in order to inform its strategy against Covid-19. While the advice will be weighed against other competing interests that government may be looking at, we cannot ignore or seek to vilify input that is coming from the scientific community simply because it does not fall in line with government strategy. Any country that has a fighting chance against this virus should consider a wide range of views and credible bodies of work that accompany those views.

We have seen over the past weeks those who have broken rank within the MAC be treated with disdain. This is a concerning trend that Minister Mkhize should be fighting against instead of allowing his department to instigate it.

The health response to date has been largely commendable. However, once expert voices are maligned for not rubber – stamping government strategy, it raises the question about the credibility of said strategy.

While we should never excuse the peddling of false information in order to advance an argument, the right of those who have differing views must still be protected. The use of false information must be dealt with as a separate matter. Government should not deliberately conflate the refuting of false claims with the right to make differing inputs.

The DA’s fight is for the South African government to create space for scientific data to lead the response to this virus. We cannot have a government response that is divorced from scientific or health data. That can truly happen when the space to agree and disagree with government is created and cultivated. Minister Mkhize should be the champion of that culture.

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