South Africa: Calls for compulsory Covid-19 tests after top black trade unionist becomes ill


Johannesburg – Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the country’s second largest labour federation, the South African Federation Trade Unions (Saftu) has become the latest high-profile person to test positive for the feared Covid-19.

Vavi confirmed on Thursday he had contracted the disease, joining ACDP leaders Kenneth Meshoe and Steve Swart, former Olympic swimming champion Cameron van der Burgh, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince Charles, actor Idris Elba and professional golfer Victor Lange in the growing list of local and international big names.

After Meshoe tested positive, IFP’s Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi and UDM’s General Bantu Holomisa went into self-isolation as a precaution. Both politicians were recently in close contact with Meshoe at a government event.

The Information Communication Technology Union (ICTU) said it was greatly concerned as Saftu staff and leaders from other affiliates had interacted with Vavi during the period when coronavirus statistics were low.

In a statement, the ICTU said it had taken a decision to do compulsory Covid-19 tests and “further encourage all Saftu affiliates and staff to do compulsory tests”.

Vavi broke the news of his infection on Thursday via a statement sent to the federation’s media WhatsApp group.

Vavi said while he was having a great day, he received the news from a laboratory he had tested positive for the virus that has forced the country to go into a 21-day lockdown.

“Gosh comrades, on the day I feel much better the lab called to say I tested positive for coronavirus. It’s mild (symptoms) but need self-isolation at home. I will run it out, steam it out and just relax and observe all the rules,” Vavi said.

While Vavi did not say anything about his fellow federation office bearers and his immediate family, there are fears he had unintentionally infected them. Saftu had a political meeting in Johannesburg on March 19 and insiders said about 40 office bearers attended.

Vavi did not respond when asked about that possibility. He had earlier sent out a message to the media saying due to the large number of requests for interviews, he would only speak to SABC TV and radio.

He was, however, quoted on television as saying he did not know where he contracted the disease.

Political and public health analysts said Vavi testing positive for Covid-19 showed the infection was not limited to certain races or classes of people, that the virus did not discriminate and everyone was vulnerable.

University of South Africa political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said this sent a message that internal infections were becoming common.

“Initially, most infections were of people who had come into contact with those who had travelled from abroad.

“Right now it is quite clear that once it is internal, this type of transmission becomes more common, and now you can no longer say ‘I did not meet anyone who has travelled abroad’ given the scale of common places that we are using,” Fikeni said.

Another political analyst, Protus Madlala, said this was sending the message that everyone should take responsibility to prevent the spread. He said the death of renowned scientist Professor Gita Ramjee and a schoolteacher in uMlazi due to the virus had led to people in the townships admitting that they were wrong to undermine the disease.

“Now they are taking it seriously, saying that everyone should take responsibility to look after oneself instead of saying it only affects white people and travellers.”

Imran Buccus said gone were the days of believing that the disease was for the middle-class and rich.

“We have seen around the world that this disease is reaching people across class backgrounds who are professors, travellers and working-class people in townships and on the periphery of society,” Buccus said.

Professor Saloshni Naidoo, head of public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said this showed that everyone was equally at risk and the best people could do was to abide by the 21-day lockdown rules and stay at home.



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