On Thursday, the Eastern Cape health department confirmed the number of people who had travelled from the Western Cape and were found to have tested for Covid-19 was 80.
This is what Eastern Cape residents had feared since the first reports of an influx of minibus taxis from the Western Cape emerged over the Easter weekend.
The Western Cape has the most number of Covid-19 cases in the country with 4,000. At the time of writing, the Eastern Cape was approaching 1,000 cases.
The cross-border situation has soured relations between the respective provinces’ governments, despite assurances from premiers Oscar Mabuyane and Alan Winde that they were working together in stopping people from travelling without the requisite permits.
Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said on Thursday: “Why the 56 people [at that stage] were not tested in the Western Cape is beyond me.”
The figure was readjusted to 80 on Thursday night, but only hours before Western Cape transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela vented his anger on social media about with how the “Eastern Cape is playing the blame game” instead of dealing with pandemic head-on.
He went further, suggesting that Bhisho could be guilty of hiding the number of Covid-19 deaths in the province to “look good”.
“I have it from good sources that some provinces are deliberately hiding their statistics and people who are dying and I suspect the Eastern Cape is also doing this,” Madikizela said.
“We [Western Cape] have a high infection because we are reporting everything. Creating a false sense of comfort to look good is unethical and immoral.”
“In the regulations we are not compelled to screen and test people who are travelling. The Eastern Cape does not go to taxi ranks to screen people before they leave that province, so this expectation that we must do it — I just find it absurd.”
There has been speculation in Eastern Cape political circles that people in the Western Cape, particularly farmers, are using the lockdown to get rid of labourers.
“There’s this conspiracy that we are transporting people to infect others in that province, that’s madness.”
In response to Madikizela’s claims, Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said they had been transparent in their findings and they had tested more than 10,000 people in the province.
“We release data every day to national for announcements by the minister [of health Zweli Mkhize] and there is no truth in what MEC Madikizela is saying,” Kupelo said.
“I want to appeal to the honourable Madikizela; we have been cautioned by the World Health Organisation, which appealed to world leaders and everyone who is involved in dealing with Covid-19 not to play politics.”
Kupelo said he was in possession of a permit that had been issued outside of lockdown regulations by the farmers to the 80 people [who tested positive].
“We’ve got records, there was a never an attempt to hide information. Those people who came from the farms went to the villages bayoyiytyala levirus [to spread the virus].”
Provincial transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said his department also refused to engage in a “blame-game of any sort” with Western Cape.
“As the province, we have a responsibility of enforcement of the lockdown regulations without any fear or favour, as pronounced by the national command council.
“If in doing that some choose to interpret it as building the Berlin Wall, China Wall or any other wall, it is unfortunate,” Binqose said.
DA Eastern Cape provincial legislature leader Bobby Stevenson agreed with Madikizela and said Gomba “must stop playing politics by cherry-picking Covid-19 data” for cheap political point-scoring.