What’s making Limpopo’s pupils ill?

2014-11-09 06:00

Disgruntled businesspeople, vindictive pupils or bacteria: what’s to blame for a recent spate of food poisoning at schools across Limpopo?

It may be a bit of all three, if evidence collected by City Press is to be believed.

The Forum of Limpopo Entrepreneurs says it’s “only a possibility that bitter business people” have been sabotaging meals at the province’s schools.

But, the forum’s Siviko Mabunda spokesperson asks, “who can blame them” if they are – a controversial school feeding scheme tender has left many small businesses furious.

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

Thousands of children in Limpopo, most in the Sekhukhune district, have fallen ill in the past few months after eating contaminated food.

Just 12 companies were appointed in this financial year to run school feeding schemes in the province, a lucrative R1 billion enterprise.

In previous years, thousands of small businesses have been awarded contracts to supply food at schools.

“We condemn any senseless act and while we support business people and share their frustration, it can’t be a good thing for anyone to go out there and put the lives of innocent children in danger,” Mabunda said.

But he doubts small companies are to blame.

“If this is an act of sabotage at all, it is hard to think of how anyone can access food in storerooms and place dangerous objects in there...but it remains a possibility.”

There may be a scientific explanation for the widespread food poisoning.

A report prepared for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and leaked to City Press suggests at least some of the cases were caused by a bacteria in pupils’ food.

The report says laboratory tests have revealed that pupils were infected by two types of bacteria – bacillus cereus and clostridium perfringens.

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

“Clostridium perfringens often occurs when foods are prepared in large quantities and then kept warm for a long time before serving,” it says in the report.

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

But another report also given to Motshekga and which City Press has seen reveals that some pupils have “confessed to having brought pieces of glass to schools after they heard about incidents in other schools in the district”.

Basic education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said his department was working to step up its monitoring of school food from suppliers’ warehouses to its ultimate destination.

Monitors will be assigned to schools across the country to gather information from schools and suppliers’ warehouses.

“That information will be analysed and if anything is found to be wrong we will be able to act almost immediately. Suppliers countrywide should be warned that we won’t hesitate to terminate contracts where they are found not to be complying to set standards,” Mhlanga said.

He also dismissed reports that a pupil had died this week after eating contaminated food. City Press visited Kwenatshwene (subs: corr) Primary School in Rietfontein from which reports of the death emenated.

Teachers at the school and a member of school governing body confirmed that children were ferried to hospital with diarrhoea and vomiting on Monday but there was no death.

“Firstly glass were found in one child’s food and later on in the day children started getting sick. We had to hire minibus taxis to take them to hospital but they were all cleared of any serious danger and none of them passed on,” said school governing body member Agnes Makweya.

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