Cops probe Limpopo’s foul school food

2014-11-16 18:00

The police have stepped in to investigate a spate of food poisonings at Limpopo schools that have left more than 1?300 pupils hospitalised in less than a month.

It’s not clear exactly who they’re investigating since everything from sabotage to bacteria, and inept suppliers to disgruntled bidders, have been blamed in the past few weeks.

Now Limpopo’s government has identified a new villain: the team of government administrators in charge of the education department since December 2011.

This week, the national basic education department temporarily stopped school feeding schemes in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district, where pupils at 16 schools have fallen ill since October 20.

The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, said police had started an “investigative inquiry with a view to laying criminal charges”.

After Premier Stan Mathabatha visited one of the schools, his spokesperson Kenny Mathivha hit out at the province’s administrators.

According to him, such incidents shouldn’t happen with administrators in place. “[The administrators] have taken over appointments of feeding scheme suppliers, and whatever is happening has got nothing to do with us,” he said, adding that the provincial government was “deeply concerned” by the situation in Sekhukhune.

Tensions have been mounting between the provincial government and the administrators, who were brought in to manage Limpopo because it was on the verge of financial collapse.

Mathabatha’s administration has repeatedly said the administrators have done their job and overstayed their welcome.

School food has been a point of contention: in the past financial year, the administrators decided that

funds would be transferred to individual schools to organise their own supplies.

Twelve companies were then appointed – without a tender process – to run feeding schemes until the new system was ready.

In the past, scores of businesses have shared the R1?billion budgeted for Limpopo’s school feeding schemes.

Last week, the Forum of Limpopo Entrepreneurs told City Press it was “only a possibility that bitter business people” had been sabotaging meals at the province’s schools.

But “who can blame them” if they were, asked the forum’s Siviko Mabunda.

“Their bread has been taken away from them and only a few companies are benefiting,” he said.

There might be another, less sinister cause: a report prepared for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, which City Press has seen, revealed that pupils at one of the schools were infected with two types of bacteria known as “bacillus cereus and clostridium perfringens”.

According to the report, bacillus cereus is a “bacterium that produces?...?toxins which cause two types of illness – diarrhoea as well as nausea and vomiting”.

Clostridium perfringens often occurs when food is prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a time before serving, it said.

“That is why outbreaks of these infections are usually linked to hospitals, school cafeterias and nursing homes or events with catered food,” the report said.

The same report also revealed that pupils confessed to bringing “pieces of glass to schools after they heard about other schools in the district”. Presumably they wanted time off school like the sick children had.

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