File picture: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
Mbombela - Forced to find ways of surviving, several poor families from the Msukaligwa area in Mpumalanga have turned to municipal dumping sites to feed their families.

Aware that eating expired food from dumping sites can pose serious health risks - especially for those with compromised immune systems - the desperate families continue to scavenge, because there simply is no other way to survive.

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 that is one 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.

Bongiwe Buthelezi, a community health nurse, said: “Because of poverty, people are forced to put their health at risk eating contaminated food from dumping sites. 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,” Buthelezi said.

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.” 

- ANA-Health-e News