Listeriosis: Motsoaledi offers to help victims litigate, as MPs argue over blame

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. (Netwerk24)
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. (Netwerk24)

Cape Town - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says his department will offer to help victims and their families of the listeriosis outbreak with potential litigation if they decide to take the matter further.

Motsoaledi delivered a statement to the National Assembly on the deadly disease on Thursday.

ALSO READ:  Claiming for listeriosis deaths, damages could be complex - lawyer

During debate on his statement, Motsoaledi accused the DA of trying to launch an election campaign on the backs of those who had died from the disease.

This after DA MP Lindy Wilson received applause from sections of the public gallery after labelling the national health system a "death sentence for the poor", and called on South Africans to change their votes.

"You are even evoking the tragedy of Life Esidimeni. Listeria happened by a private sector company, and that's why you want to blame government again," Motsoaledi hit back.

"There's no way we are going to keep quiet [about the companies]. Laws are available to take into account. They are going to be punished according to available legislation.

"Those members of the community who want to litigate, we will give them all the information, data and all the expertise to help them litigate... we will see what the DA will say."

He accused the DA of bringing supporters into the gallery. They were, however, wearing NFP T-shirts.

'Enterprise, Rainbow must come to Parliament'

Motsoaledi was not the only MP who blamed the DA for wanting to protect the interests of the two companies implicated - Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken.

NFP MP Sheik Imam said "those to his left" were trying to protect "white monopoly capital" and the companies involved.

"They must be held liable. The arrogant attitude of Enterprise Foods must not be tolerated. They must be brought to account, because the poorest of the poor are affected," Sheik Imam said.

EFF MP Elsabe Ntlangwini agreed, saying Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken must account to Parliament.

READ: Listeriosis: Four countries 'immediately' suspend SA chilled meat imports

"Why did they not follow the rules? Why did they not follow international regulations? It's not okay. These people need to be prosecuted," she said.

Earlier, Wilson said: "Listeriosis is treatable, a quick course of antibiotics, and in most instances, patients are good to go.

"The question then arises, why are we sitting with a record-breaking outbreak of a disease that has claimed the lives of so many South Africans?"

While she said she was not there to absolve either factory for the role they had played in the loss of lives in South Africa, she "questioned whether they are solely responsible".

'Parliament must send back processed meats'

ANC MP and chairperson of the health portfolio committee Mary-Ann Dunjwa said Motsoaledi's department should be commended.

Dunjwa said they agreed with the EFF and IFP that the DA was trying to protect the companies.

She also had an issue with the free food Parliament serves them during committee meetings, which can include nuts, yoghurt and fruit, depending on the choice of a given committee.

"Parliament must stop giving us bread with processed foods. As members of the National Assembly, we must not eat it, we must send it back, because we must lead by example," cried Dunjwa.

During his statement, Motsoaledi said the outbreak did not occur in January 2017 as was reported, but that was the date from which they were analysing data.

The outbreak was considered to have occurred in June last year, and was identified in July.

By March 2 this year, 948 cases had been lodged, a total of 569 patients traced, and 180 had died - a 27% case fatality rate.

Motsoaledi also had one last caution.

"Listeria can contaminate any food. The reason the problem is cold meats, is because listeria is very sensitive to heat. Any other meat that is cooked, it dies; but in cold meat, it doesn't die."

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