Cholera-hit South African town blames government for deadly outbreak
South Africa recorded its first two cholera cases in February on the back of outbreaks in nearby Mozambique and Malawi. On 24 May, the provincial department of health said that since last week 165 people have visited a local hospital in Hammanskraal with symptoms including diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. Lab tests have confirmed two dozen cases of cholera, and 17 people have died.
Cholera has seen a global resurgence since 2021 after a decade of steady decline. This week, the UN warned that one billion people in 43 countries were at risk. The disease is contracted from a bacterium generally transmitted through contaminated food or water.
Sandile Buthelezi, health ministry director, said the infection is showing “a very high fatality rate.” On top of this, public outcry is growing as residents level blame at the government. One grieving family gathered in their yard in a town near Pretoria, the epicentre of the outbreak, mourning the death of a relative killed by the disease. Agence France-Presse (AFP) described the family as seething with anger, and blaming the government for failing to solve their perennial water woes.
Hammanskraal is a small town north of Pretoria. Kagiso Sadiki cannot remember a time when its tap water was fit for consumption. His 53-year-old cousin Michael Sadiki died within a week of falling ill. Sadiki told AFP:
Everybody has the right to have clean water.
I hope my cousin’s death is not in vain.
Sadiki said his cousin died after being turned away from a local hospital due to a shortage of beds and staff. He also explained that the water crisis is “a problem that could have been solved a long time ago”. He added that the family was struggling to raise money for the funeral and now “has to bear the brunt”.
A spokesperson for nursing union DENOSA (Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa), Mogomotsi Seleke, told AFP that nurses are “overburdened” and “not given enough support”. Seleke continued:
Nurses only have two hands… and when they are not enough at some point patients suffer.
Locals told AFP that the cholera outbreak is a symptom of dysfunctional wastewater treatment, poor piping infrastructure, and municipal graft.
‘We don’t have water’
Following public outcry, the government announced it would probe the causes of the Hammanskraal water crisis. Furthermore, municipal authorities have urged Hammanskraal residents not to drink tap water, promising that tankers would distribute water. However, residents say these only show up once or twice a week.
Rosa Kovani, a resident in a neighbouring township said:
We don’t have water, we don’t have houses… we have nothing.
Sello Samuel Lekoto, who is being treated for cholera in Hammanskraal, said:
We are drinking that water, but they don’t want to clean that water, or to… put another pipe to give us the all right water.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via YouTube screenshot/Reuters
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