Why South Africans are refusing the vaccine

December 22, 2021
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As new data about the Omicron variant is interpreted (and perhaps predictably, misinterpreted) by experts worldwide, South Africa has become a coronavirus case-study under global surveillance. Last week, UnHerd spoke to Pieter Streicher about the data coming out of Gauteng, but we now wanted to look at the bigger picture in that country.

To get a snapshot into the cultural and political reality on the ground, Freddie Sayers sat down with Brian Pottinger, former Editor of the South African Sunday Times. He joined UnHerd from his home on the KwaZulu Natal North Coast.

It appears that the discovery of the Omicron variant is going to bring to a head some of the tensions that Pottinger has been detailing for UnHerd over the last year. South Africa is in an unusually precarious position. Another set of restrictions looks likely to cause discontent in the already fractious and divided society.

Interestingly, however, South Africa remains mostly unvaccinated, with only around 26% of the country having received both jabs. Pottinger attributes this scepticism to factors ranging from the political to the superstitious, but one thing is for certain: if the Government were to implement further restrictions and even a lockdown, such ‘blunt instruments’ could create spectres of South Africa’s past divisions. Protests against government handling of the pandemic have also descended into rioting and looting, which he has witnessed first hand in his own village.

Public distrust for government has only been exacerbated by past corruption, mishandling of other crises and cultural divides between ‘warrior scientists’ and a population known to be one of the ‘most protest prone in the world’. While green shoots seem to be emerging in Gauteng, with hospitalisations seem to be matching Peter Stricher’s low predictions, it remains to be seen how the ‘fragile democracy’ of South Africa will hold up under this new strain.


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