Soweto – South Africans showed little appetite for local elections on Monday, but many were drawn to polling stations for a separate reason – to get an anti-Covid jab.
Authorities have set up nearly 1 000 pop-up clinics near polling stations across the country.
Other clinics adjusted their hours and operations to accommodate voters, all to huge publicity aimed at overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
Jabulani Twala got his vaccine at Kopanong Community Centre in Soweto before walking next door to vote.
He said he’d been too scared to get his jab, because of misinformation swirling on social media.
“People told me that I would die from the vaccine, become sterile, and that I’ll be implanted with a microchip,” the 47-year-old security guard said.
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“But after seeing the number of infections and deaths have gone down after we started vaccinating in South Africa, I decided that I too will get the jab.”
Voter turnout is expected to be low Monday.
Just 65 percent of eligible voters even registered.
Polls suggest a majority could for the first time turn against the African National Congress, which has governed nationally since Nelson Mandela’s election ended white rule in 1994.
In some cases, lines were as long for jabs as they were for ballots.
Some people were encouraged by the declaration of a public holiday for the voting, using their time off work to get inoculated.
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Kopanong Community Centre is normally used as a vaccination centre, but on Monday it had turned into a polling station, vacating the premises to accommodate voters and setting up tents outside to provide them with jabs.
Around midday, some 250 people had already received a jab in two tents set up near a grassy park where children played football.
Masego Molebatsina, a 19-year-old student, said she was not going to vote “because I feel that it’s a waste of time.”
“I got my jab because I believe that it saves lives.”
She worried about holding an election during a pandemic, even if South Africa’s infection rate has dropped dramatically and the country is on its lowest level of restrictions.
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“It is not right to hold an election during a pandemic,” she said. “Look at the voting queues. No one is social distancing.”
Anne Simango, the nurse managing the vaccine centre, said they normally gave out an average of 300 jabs daily.
“But today we’ve experienced an influx,” she added.
About 31 percent of South African adults are fully vaccinated, and last month the country began vaccinating children aged 12 and up.
The country’s target is to vaccinate two-thirds of the population before January.
With more than 2.9 million cases including 89 000 fatalities, South Africa has the highest number of infections on the continent.
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