Poor families forced to feed from dumping sites

Written by Cynthia Maseko

MPUMALANGA – Forced to find ways of surviving, several poor families from the Msukaligwa area have found ways to feed their families from municipal dumping sites.

Aware that eating expired food from dumping sites can pose serious health risks, several families continue to scavenge for contaminated food. They believe they have no other available options.

Sibongile Mavimbela, a mother of five from Wesselton community is HIV positive and knows that eating food from dump sites is putting her health at further risk.

“What must I do? I am unemployed and raising five kids on my own. This is the one place I get food to feed my family without being judged. Without these dumping sites my kids will go to sleep with an empty stomach. I know and understand the dangers of eating rotten food, but I am doing the best I can. I make sure that before we eat the food must be properly washed and recooked. Because I am always in this place, I can say that over the past four years I had TB twice and diarrhea no longer concerns us or scares me off because is one of the illness we have become used to having,” said Mavimbela.

TB – spread mostly through the air when people who have the disease cough, sneeze or spit – is the most common opportunistic infection among people living with HIV.

“Because of poverty people are forced to put their health at risk eating contaminated food from dumping site. My advice to them when going through these places is that they must always make sure they use masks to cover their mouth and nose because they might catch diseases. Also, they must be aware that food found from dumping sites is contaminated and it can pose serious health risks to people. For example, there are dirty nappies full of faeces and urine so one can easily catch a disease such as E-coli. Human faeces can cause infections and other infectious diarrhea – dysentery, salmonella or shigella. Viral infections that are transmitted through faeces include rotavirus and norovirus and on top of that there is food poisoning,” said Bongiwe Buthelezi, a community health nurse.

Ernest Dlamini said “The employment rate has really affected my family because even my 26-year-old daughter is currently unemployed and being a father I try by all means to feed them. Sometimes that means I have to put my health at risk of catching diseases. On a good day if I collect lots of cans and bottles from the dumping sites, I am able to resell at the recycle companies. I usually make R80, which I use to buy my wife, three children and grandchildren food. If I don’t get anything from reselling the cans and bottles, like many hungry families I have no other option but to collect food which is badly rotten sometimes.”

Municipal worker Collen Ngwenya said “We have tried so many times to chase these people out of the dumping site. But they don’t listen and it has even come to the point where they tell us to provide them with food or give them money so that they will stop coming here. It’s really painful to see them fight over rotten food because they can catch illness or diseases from this dirty place.” – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was first published on The Star

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.