South Africa's ruling and the main opposition party have been accused of politicising the COVID-19 pandemic after protective masks with party logos embossed on them were distributed among the people. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) decried the printing of party logo on protective gear, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said the masks were distributed among the poor as a goodwill gesture.
The novel coronavirus, which originated in China's Wuhan city in December last year, has claimed 50 lives and infected 2,783 people in South Africa.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte condemned the use of the ANC name and insignia on coronavirus masks, manufactured by private businesses.
"We are making an appeal to those private sector individuals [manufacturing these masks] not to abuse the ANC emblem. And also we are asking the ANC membership to understand that COVID-19 affects everyone, irrespective of the political party you may belong to," Duarte told The Citizen newspaper.
"We cannot be selling masks that have political emblems on them and hoping that (party supporters) will support the private sector in this regard. This flies in the face of the unity (amongst all political parties) that is being forged in fighting against COVID-19. We urge these people not to sell masks with the ANC's emblem on it."
However, DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the party was aware of the masks with party insignia that were used in two South African provinces.
Malatsi said members of the DA were "acting out of their goodwill to help the communities who could not afford masks," emphasising that the masks were only used by local party members and were not commissioned by the party itself.
"Those masks were meant to help towards providing protective gear to individuals who may not have the resources or the equipment to make their own masks," Malatsi said. With a number of local elections pending across the country because of the national coronavirus lockdown, calls have also gone out for the Independent Electoral Commission to investigate the matter as a possible breach of electoral laws and regulations.
Corporate businesses who were reportedly planning to provide masks with their livery as promotional items for free distribution have also approached the issue with caution following legal advice.
A company whose logo or name appeared on a mask which could be proved to be inefficiently blocking the virus might be held legally liable for any hospitalisation costs or even death claims by surviving family members, said a lawyer, requesting anonymity.