Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

Spectres of hunger, cholera start haunting S. Africa

By Adriana Stuijt     Dec 3, 2008 in World
JOHANNESBURG - Piet Rampedi of City Press newspaper reports that South African citizens are also falling victim to the cholera epidemic - not only Zimbabweans as SA officials are claiming.
Concern is also growing in South Africa that the cholera epidemic would start another chain of anti-foreigner violence such as was seen in May 2008.
Rampedi interviewed members of the Madimbo clan near Musina, Limpopo - and they refute SA officials' claims that the deadly cholera epidemic has ravaged only Zimbabweans or South Africans who recently visited that country. The Madimbo point out that their local fresh-water source, the Nwanedi River - is a branch of the Limpopo which has been found to be heavily-contaminated with cholera.
The Madimbo clansmen say that at least 20 of their own people were also infected with cholera.
While these tribesmen often cross the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe because their relatives live on both sides, the Madimbo victims had never set foot in Zimbabwe, the clan spokesman insists.
However Phuti Seloba, spokesman for the Limpopo health and social development department, still insists that the cholera patients were Zimbabweans or ' locals who have a history of visiting that country.'
Madimbo elder Fistos Mafela said 20 locals ' who have never set foot in Zimbabwe', also were among cholera patients admitted to the clinic. "The (authorities) tell the media that all affected people are Zimbabweans, but we have 20 locals infected here at Madimbo," Mafela said. "We are worried because we do not know where this disease comes from, our people are sick, mostly children and unemployed residents."
Local children often swim in the Nwanedi river and the water is also used for ablution, washing and drinking by unemployed residents - who cannot afford to buy reticulated water from the local municipality.
By Tuesday this week, 538 patients had been 'officially' treated for cholera and 111 admitted to the Musina Hospital inside South Africa.The Red Cross has erected four hospital tents on the Musina hospital grounds as makeshift wards. Twenty public-health nurses, 25 nursing students and four doctors work shifts to treat the patients.Treatment usually involves re-hydration and replacement of lost minerals (often Coca Cola syrup is used in emergency situations) due to the rapid diarrhea caused by cholera.
In nearby Zimbabwe, at least 100,000 people have fallen ill from cholera and local health-care workers and doctors held a protest march against the breakdown in health-care services and lack of pay.
The death rates are difficult to come by, with estimates ranging from 380 to 500.
These are official statistics from both sides of the borders, however local residents say many more people are falling ill but are not reporting to health care workers.
Meanwhile in the Eastern Cape - where cholera has been endemic since the late 1970s -- local authorities are now blaming one Ethiopian refugee, who had arrived in East London via Zimbabwe, for 'bringing cholera into the province.' The health authorities of the province -- which used to be known as the independent Transkei homeland during the apartheid-era -- have placed the man in isolation 'to prevent an outbreak of the disease'. It's very unusual for people to contract cholera from any direct contact with patients, however - they get it from drinking contaminated water mostly.
Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo: "The Ethiopian arrived on Sunday and fell ill on Monday. Two other people he was staying with also have been tested.
'To prevent a repeat of the terrible ethnic-cleansing campaigns targeting foreigners in South Africa, local-level officials should refrain from publicly blaming 'foreigners' for the cholera outbreak by officials is not being helpful. For details of the SA ethnic-cleansing campaign targeting foreign African refugees: ' see: . This was said by South Africa's ministry of health spokesman Shiburi. He was concerned that blame for the cholera outbreak in Musina would be placed on the long-suffering Zimbabweans.
There already is a great deal of simmering local resentment over the huge numbers that cross the border each day, he warned. "[Cholera] public awareness campaigns should include the people of Musina, and also avoid stigmatising the Zimbabweans," he said.
The Red Cross meanwhile confirmed on Dec 3 2008 that the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, and which has spread into South Africa at the border town of Mussina, has already affected over 12 500 people and at least 500 people have died. In SA's Limpopo province, local authorities claim, some six people have died and 400 were infected thus far.
The Musina branch of the South African Red Cross Society has mobilised its staff and volunteers to educate the locals about cholera-prevention. John Fleming, the Red Cross' Southern Africa health and care co-ordinator, said cholera was wholly preventable with education and clean water.
HUNGER: 13million South Africans can afford only one meal a week...
Meanwhile another spectre is also haunting South Africa which does not hit the international headlines nearly as much - even though it affects many millions of families of all races.
Hunger - mainly due to the collapse of the commercial agricultural sector, is now affecting at least 16-million South Africans on a daily basis.
In 1994, South Africa had 85,000 commercial farmers and also was the continent's major food-exporter. Food inside South Africa was plentiful and cheap. However by 2008, the number of commercial farmers had dropped below 13,000 - raising irrigated cash-crops on only 0.67% of the entire SA land surface.
South Africa thus has suddenly become a major food-importer for important staple-foods such as maize (corn) and wheat, much of it imported at huge cost to the national treasury from North America and the Australian grain fields. Local food-prices have more than tripled over the past two years and millions of people cannot afford a daily meal any longer.
Operation Hunger and the Helping Hand charity of Solidarity Trade Union warned recently that some 13-million people - of whom 1-million are white Afrikaners (out of a population of 3,5-m) -- go hungry every day - in fact, they warned that many of these families can only afford one meal a week. They are now hovering right on the edge of starvation.
One of the main food-producing areas for South Africa before 1970 was the former Transkei homeland - a fertile, high-rainfall area where the local residents have for years, owned all their own land. When white farmers produced food there on leased land, it also was the major food producer for the entire Western Cape. However now, local farmers cannot even raise enough to feed their own families - yet the land is fertile and the rainfall is high.
The local government has now come up with a 'bold new plan' to revive local agricultural production in a programme called "Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for SA." (Asgisa-EC). The plan is to lease fallow land, put fences around it and use it for dry-land mechanised crop-farming - which is exactly what white farmers -- now being chased off the land in massive numbers -- have always been doing.
This plan sounds very expensive: the "Mzimvubu corridor' would occupy 100,000 hectares of land, cost at least R5-billion to develop, provide 4,000 jobs and range from the Umtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south of the province. It's remains a mystery why the local land owners cannot farm this fertile land themselves.
The project is spearheaded with an initial R100-milion kick start from the local taxpayer-kitty by former World Bank director Simpiwe Somdyala, and would involve boosting food production, building food-processing plants and developing forests.
He also wants to build a very expensive new dam to generate electricity with and provide irrigation to nearby farms. The dam will cost billions of rands to build and include plans to develop it as a tourist attraction.
The farming project won't create a lot of new jobs and white commercial farmers will be barred from submitting tenders. The purpose is to stop the growing hunger in the SA population by rapidly boosting local food production.
Traditionally, African homesteaders do not ever fence in their properties, but let their livestock roam free - obviously excluding any possibility of raising any large agricultural crops. Somdyala has already leased 6,400 hectares of arable land on behalf of the trust, and plans to secure up to 100, 000 ha over the next five years.
He started by tendering the job of planting maize on 2,000 hectares to the highly mechanised Transkei commercial farmer, Zovuyo Ngejane, 30. There also are plans for other cash-crops such as soy beans, sunflower, and a variety of vegetables.
“This project will not create a lot of jobs,' he said. " But it will address food insecurity and participating families will get enough maize to feed themselves for the year,” says Somdyala.
"On this current 6,400 hectares of land, about 310 jobs have been created. We expect to employ 4,000 workers all told. The most important thing for us is to improve the agricultural yield. If we get higher yield during harvesting, rural families will benefit more,” Somdyala said.
Each participating family in the project will get 10 bags or 500 kg of maize for each hectare leased out to Asgisa-EC each season - enough to feed a family of six for a year. "The rest of the bags per hectare, which are expected to amount to 93 bags, will be reinvested back into the project to make it sustainable.
“The aim is to make the project sustainable. We don’t want to be continuously going back to the Treasury to ask for more money,” says Somdyala.
Communities keen to lease out their land.
The local Mhlakulo clan around Tsolo was enthusiastic: They had 'plenty of land but it is not ploughed: We are hungry and our children are unemployed. We want Asgisa-EC to help us plant this land. The harvest in this land is very good, you won’t believe it,” said Nomakhwezi Luzipo, a 63-year old widow from the village.
The black commercial farmer who has been given the tender for the first phase of the project, says he is delighted - but also hopes the politicians won't let them down - he owns 32 tractors and a fleet of harvesters, harvesters, ploughs, rippers, planters and other agricultural implements and believes the Mzimvubu project has the potential to turn the area into a food exporter.
“The former Transkei has the potential to produce enough food to feed the whole of South Africa and Zimbabwe. We have plenty of land not being used for agricultural production. “But I hope the politicians will keep their promises and support this project because it has big potential,” Ngejane says.
More about Hunger, Cholera, South Africa, Destruction commercial agriculture, Eastern cape famine
More news from