Namibia: Churches Warn Against Vaccine 'Apartheid'

14 September 2021

A GROUP of churches has raised the spectre of Namibia fostering a new kind of apartheid between those vaccinated against Covid-19, and those who choose to remain unvaccinated.

"The thought of carrying mandatory vaccine passports brings back terrible memories of the apartheid regime that discriminated between races and didn't allow people of particular races in certain public spaces," Dolly Nengushe of the Alliance of Christian Churches in Namibia (ACCN) said at a press conference yesterday.

Her statements come after the minister of information and communication technology, Peya Mushelenga, said unvaccinated Namibians are hampering the fight against the Covid pandemic.

Moreover, some companies have amended their company policies in favour of vaccinated people, while others have a vaccination requirement as part of their conditions of employment.

Nengushe said this has the potential to drive hatred of the unvaccinated.

"This would further segregate and instigate enmities among employees, family members, friends, colleagues, and even church members, and may hamper progress in strengthening social cohesion in our nation," she said.

She said the nation should not return to the apartheid days of classifying people according to their vaccination status.

Nengushe is pleading with the government to assure the nation that Covid-19 vaccines would not become mandatory.

The Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) concurs with the ACCN, saying vaccination should remain optional.

"Keep it as it is, and rather build on encouraging people and getting their confidence in vaccines," CCN general secretary Ludwig Beukes says.

The council recently endorsed Covid-19 vaccination after the religious community rejected for months.

Beukes says mandatory vaccination at organisations should not be normalised unless the law stipulates such.

"It cannot be like that," he says.

Labour expert Herbert Jauch says mandatory jabs enforced at the workplace poses challenges.

"On the one hand it is an individual's right to say whether they want to get vaccinated or not. It is a human right. The other aspect is workers' rights enshrined in the Constitution. Another aspect that contrasts it is that employers have an obligation to provide a healthy and safe environment," he says.

Jauch says the risk unvaccinated employees pose in the work environment and leaving it up to individuals to decide could be seen as the employer not protecting workers.

"In court, these two arguments would clash. Would the collective interest to protect employees override individual interest? I am not sure in legal terms how it would go," he says.

Jauch suggests a court case would be the best way to see what the law would dictate.

"No one has challenged this yet. This would require a legal clarification," he says.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), even if there is a sufficient supply, and if a mandate for vaccination of the general public is considered necessary and proportionate, a few considerations exist for those in power.

"Policymakers should still consider whether a mandate for the general public would threaten public trust or exacerbate inequality for the most vulnerable or marginalised," the WHO states in a recent study.

In South Africa, president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the government will introduce Covid-19 'vaccine passports' to fully reopen the economy and avoid a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.

Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula, however, maintains that vaccination remains a choice -

regardless of company policies.

"Vaccination is voluntary even when some companies may require proof of vaccination," he says.

The Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Office of the Attorney General were yesterday approached for comment, but did not do so at the time of going to print.

GLOBAL STANDARDS

Countries around the world have made vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory, explaining it is in the interest of the public.

According to Reuters, Canada will soon require all federal public servants and many other workers to be vaccinated.

The vaccine mandate will also include air, train and cruise-ship travellers.

Nightclubs and other venues in the United Kingdom with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September.

Australia in late June opted to make vaccination mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels.

VACCINATION FIGURES

As of yesterday, 231 283 Namibians received their first jabs, while 141 295 have received a second shot.

Shangula recently said there has been a decline in the number of first Covid-19 vaccine doses.

"Once we have up to 60% of the population vaccinated, it will help us live our normal life. We have endured a lot during this pandemic. When vaccination is one of the effective weapons to help us defeat the invisible enemy, why not go for it?" he said.

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