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DA leaders should follow Premier Winde’s example on vaccines

DA leaders should follow Premier Winde’s example on vaccines
DA leader John Steenhuisen addresses party members during the march to the ANC's Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg, on 25 January 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

DA leaders should follow Premier Alan Winde’s example on vaccines. And all major political parties should be united in promoting vaccination unequivocally. Inviting a British anti-vaxxer and sending mixed messages, especially during a measles outbreak, is endangering public health.

During the height of the Covid pandemic, there was one outstanding leader holding political office in South Africa: Western Cape Premier Alan Winde. His messages were clear and science-based. He supported the provincial health department’s initiatives, which involved making sure hospitals had the capacity to deal with surges in Covid cases.

Winde’s leadership is one of the reasons why the Western Cape led the way with the speed of its vaccine rollout and, as importantly, the quality of the data it produced, which showed how effective the vaccine rollout was.

So it’s a great pity that Winde’s work, which one would think the DA leadership would be proud of, is being undermined by several of the party’s top people, including John Steenhuisen, Helen Zille and, most of all, Beverley Schäfer. They have been cosying up to Dr Aseem Malhotra, a prominent anti-vaxxer from the UK, who has been touring South Africa and causing confusion here, spreading misleading information.

According to News24, the anti-vaxxer Malhotra was invited by Schäfer to present at the Western Cape legislature’s auditorium on 15 March. He has been photographed one-on-one with Steenhuisen, and is in a video with Zille. A transcript of the conversation between them was posted on Twitter.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DA Western Cape’s Beverley Schäfer under whip after asking UK anti-vaxxer to speak at legislature

Winde, again to his credit, reacted appropriately: “I hope that how this event happened will be investigated,” he told News24. “The international scientific evidence clearly shows that Covid-19 vaccines are the best tools to manage the virus, and have saved and continue to save lives.”

Reaction from Winde

I don’t wish to deal with the numerous misleading claims made by the British anti-vaxxer. GroundUp has several times previously presented the overwhelming evidence from the Western Cape that Covid vaccines have saved many lives. Here is a graph from Our World in Data that screams: “The anti-vaxxer from England talks nonsense.”

From 15 March 2021 to 15 October 2021, people in England vaccinated against Covid had a much lower death rate than unvaccinated people. Source: Our World in Data. Incidentally, a more recent analysis posted by a Twitter user, and based on official statistics, shows that the higher mortality in unvaccinated people in England continued until at least December 2022.

A GroundUp reporter asked Steenhuisen to explain why he met with this particular anti-vaxxer. Steenhuisen responded with a long exposition of liberalism. He wrote: “As a leader and a legislator, I regularly meet with people with different views and opinions. This traverses a number of topics and issues, from the legalisation of rhino horn, the death penalty, to the situation in the Middle East. I am always available to listen to the views and opinions of others, even when these are contrary to mine.”

This is at best naive. For one thing, the demands for meetings with Steenhuisen must far exceed his available time. More importantly, every formal meeting a senior political leader has with someone sends a message to the public; not necessarily that you agree with the person, but that you consider their views or position in society sufficiently important to be worth your time. By meeting with the anti-vaxxer Malhotra, Steenhuisen has disrespected health workers across the country, and especially medical leaders in the battle against Covid. It was entirely unnecessary.

Steenhuisen’s support for vaccines

At least Steenhuisen reaffirmed his support for Covid vaccines. But Schäfer, who is Deputy Speaker in the Western Cape legislature, continues to publicly express misinformation about vaccinations on her Twitter account. One would think that this violates DA policy. People have been disciplined in the DA for far less.

Anti-vaccination nonsense was virtually absent from the South African discourse before Covid. It is a terrible idea, imported mostly from American and European charlatans. Unfortunately, not only bad ideas, but measles, also cross borders. We are in the midst of a measles outbreak, in part because not enough people are vaccinated against this disease. 

This is a time when all major political parties should be united in promoting vaccination unequivocally.

Our questions to John Steenhuisen and his full response


The Western Cape led the way in the vaccine rollout, and has a proud history of fighting the Aids denialism peddled by former President Thabo Mbeki.

Now Deputy Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature, Beverley Schäfer, is actively campaigning against vaccines (check her Twitter timeline) and has invited a notorious anti-vaxxer Dr Aseem Malhotra to “address Parliament”. Malhotra has also met with you and Helen Zille.

What was the reason for meeting with Malhotra, whose promotion of life-endangering pseudoscience undermines the DA government’s own vaccine rollout achievements in the Western Cape?

Is this consistent with DA health policy?

Who invited you to meet with Malhotra?

Steenhuizen’s response:

“As a leader and a legislator, I regularly meet with people with different views and opinions. This traverses a number of topics and issues from the legalisation of rhino horn, the death penalty, to the situation in the Middle East. I am always available to listen to the views and opinions of others, even when these are contrary to mine.

“As a public representative and a policymaker of a broad voter base, I am required to meet with people with wide and divergent views. I welcome this as it enables me to be better informed when coming to my own conclusions on matters.

“I am a liberal, and unashamedly so this is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as:


Willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.

Relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

“A 20-minute exchange of views with somebody who has a different opinion to mine cannot be an endorsement of, or alignment with their views. This would be as absurd as suggesting that because a journalist has interviewed somebody in crafting their story, they have now aligned themselves to the view that has been shared with them.

“I have been extremely public in my support for vaccines, including fighting for their introduction and their rollout, and I have publicly received both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. I have also encouraged other citizens to do so on multiple occasions. This is matter of wide public record.

“I will continue to meet with people who have divergent views and engage with all sides of a debate because I feel that that is what an effective leader and legislator must do in determining his/her own position forward. I believe stronger and more sound decisions emanate from having a full view of all sides of any debate. I fundamentally reject the cancel culture that has set in where the views and opinions of others are simply cancelled or de-platformed.” DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Agf Agf says:

    What a horrible article. Spiteful and inaccurate. Dr Malhotra is not an anti-vaxer. He is a prominent British cardiologist who is concerned about the rising incidence of excess deaths and side effects from specifically the MRNA vaccines, not ALL VACCINES. Using terms such as “cozying up” is so disingenuous. Well done to the DA and specifically Steenhuisen for agreeing to meet him. It’s about time the worrying statistics are brought out into the open and not covered up as they have been. That’s what Liberals do, Nathan, they listen to all points of view.

    • brigette.blaeser says:

      I agree totally, what an awfully biased article. If the DA are blindly going to support/push mRNA jabs they will lose my support. I’m not anti-vaccine, but totally anti pushing experimental jabs on the world population for which we have no idea of long-term effects

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Does this journalist, Nathan Geffen, say that a political leader must not listen to anybody except those that are in his party? Those that already agree with him about everything? Or that the journalist agrees with? I am 100% for vaccinations. I support the DA 100%, but I will listen to other party supporters.

      I suggest that Nathan Geffen and the DM editor read the article above by alastairmgf carefully.

    • Steve Stevens says:

      It’s not about liberalism, it’s about the optics. If I was an ANC spin doctor I’d twist this into a story about the DA’s (neoliberal) master plan to end all vaccination, MRNA or otherwise, and feed the masses to the wolves of smallpox, polio, MMR etc. What Steenhuisen and Zille aren’t, is politically astute. What they are, for the ANC, is the gift that keeps on giving.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Dr Malhotra is an anti- vaxxer and conspiracy theorist. Tolerating difference and varying opinions is right, but it doesn’t mean flat-earthers, racists, sexists and other extremists should be given a platform. The rise of measles and polio are testament to the success of their misinformation campaigns. It is like the Trumpian ‘ alternative facts ‘ attitude. Steenhuizen and Zille turn many off the DA, such charmless know-it-alls.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      He is not a antivaxer but specifically worried about the mRNA COVID vaccine. Comparing that to “flat-earthers, racists, sexists and other extremists” is a complete fallacy and you completely missed the point.
      “The rise of measles and polio are testament to the success of their misinformation campaigns” has absolutely nothing to do with the mRNA vaccine for COVID, another fallacy right there.
      It seems to me like any argument you don’t agree with is “like the Trumpian ‘ alternative facts ‘ “. So who gets to decide what information we may listen to? You?

      • virginia crawford says:

        I trust the long list of respected scientists, not social media influencers.

        • Karl Sittlinger says:

          “I trust the long list of respected scientists, not social media influencers.”

          That is your right and I support you on that topic. But it does not give you the right to spread misinformation yourself about the doctor. Do you have any proof that he has a problem with all vaccines? Why do you compare him to trumpers, racists and flat-earthers when he has absolutely nothing to do with any of these topics. By the way, I am a vaccine supporter, I just cannot accept the near hysterical intolerance some people have for dissenting views down to the ad hominem attacks.

    • Steve Stevens says:

      Well said!

    • Bosuns Pincher says:

      Virginia, I agree with you. Question for anti-vaxxers (olay anti-MRNA vaccines) please provide the evidence to support the theories of this Dr Malhotra. Scientific peer reviewed examples of the dangers would be helpful. Opinions do not count. My concern is that the govenment seems to have lost all interest in providing easy local access to Covid boosters.

      • Karl Sittlinger says:

        Since the actual pandemic is over, it should be permissible to ask questions and discuss the COVID vaccine. I do however agree with you that Dr Malhotra should now work on getting his claims properly peer reviewed, gather proper evidence and that until then we cannot assume that his claims are the truth. But they are strong enough to warrant another investigation. In the meantime people criticizing him should themselves not spread misinformation by defining him as a typical antivaxer akin to flat earthers and trump fanatics.

        • virginia crawford says:

          Interesting that as a scientist his first step was not to get peer reviewed, but to go on YouTube and social media. It says a lot!

  • William Dryden says:

    A woman i know has done extensive research in respects to the so called Covid vaccines. The virus has not been identified and was based on a computer simulation, Ramaphosa was asked to provide a sample of the virus but fobbed off the request. It has now been proven that the vaccines are causing blood clots, heart attack and many other detrimental illnesses. In one case I personally know of is an elderly man who went for his booster jab and within a weak he was partially paralised, and now battles to pick up a glass or cup with his hands.
    I for one have not had the jab and will not.

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