Cape Town - Former Atlantis ward councillor and activist, Barbara Rass, is calling on national and local legislation and by-laws to be implemented to monitor the sale of food at spaza shops and the licensing of the businesses.
Last week, the Star newspaper reported that in two separate incidents, one in Soweto and the other in West Rand, children had died after allegedly consuming products bought from foreign-owned spaza shops.
ANC secretary-general, Fikile Mbabula, had reportedly raised concerns about spaza shops with the ANC’s National Executive Committee a week ago, explaining that the party wished to embark on a massive drive to stop illegal immigrants from running spaza shops in the townships.
The City of Cape Town’s Community Services and Health mayco member, Patricia van der Ross, told Weekend Argus during a special project period between July 2021 and February 2022, they assessed 2 795 spaza premises and three were prohibited from trading.
In 68 cases, food was confiscated and prevented from being sold. Fourteen instances were related to spoiled or rotten perishable food, believed to be unsafe for human consumption at the time of assessment.
Other causes that led to the removal of items from sale were related to unlabelled products or dented and blown tinned goods.
Rass said she herself had experienced purchasing a tin of green beans from a spaza shop which had expired a year before. The beans had been manufactured in 2019 and expired in 2022.
Rass said spaza shops were also a breeding ground for potential crimes such as human trafficking, drugs and organised crime, and she called for more control.
“The councillors must monitor their communities and see that the by-laws are being implemented and do regular inspections,” she said.
“It is time that the Western Cape also highlights this and places a spotlight on it.
“Our people are being killed by food poisoning, children are becoming ill and dying.
“Before it hits our community, we cannot remain silent.
“National government also has policies that are not being implemented.
“If it is not fake food from South Africa, then it is from somewhere else.
“There needs to be a specialised unit to investigate where these foods are coming from.
“This is a threat. Illegal foreigners are not being policed and these spaza shops open the door for human trafficking and organised crime and drug abuse.”
Van der Ross said people needed to understand the by-laws and regulations.
She said the City must ensure that residents are aware what so-called expired foods are.
“South African legislation indicates that no person shall import, manufacture, sell, distribute or donate a foodstuff unless a date marking is clearly indicated on the label or container of such foodstuffs, with the exception of unprocessed, unpacked fresh fruits / vegetables / fish / meat products and products that by nature do not spoil, such as vinegar,” she explained.
“Depending on the nature and type of product, the date should include appropriate words such as ‘best before’ and /or ‘use by’ and / or ‘sell by’.
“These date markings may not be removed or tampered with by any person.
“Residents should note that after the date, the food may still be perfectly satisfactory if it was stored correctly. This is applicable to shelf stable products such as pasta, flour, jams, tinned products, flour, raw maize meal, etc.”
But van der Ross warned perishable products such as milk, yoghurt, fresh meat, butter, polonies and other products that must be kept in the fridge, had a ‘use by’ (best consumed before, recommended last consumption date, expiry) stamp.
“This date means that even if the fresh product was kept in the fridge at the required temperatures, the product is, by its nature, more likely to spoil and will probably not have the level of quality normally expected by consumers and should not be regarded as marketable or palatable,” she added.
She said Environmental Health Practitioners were mandated to assess compliance at all food premises with a host of health regulations and to resolve any non- compliance found.
“The City recognises that spaza shops are a crucial part of our informal economy and a lifeline to many of our poorer communities in terms of access to goods and services. It is therefore important that we ensure they are compliant and are aware of the pitfalls of selling goods that do not comply with legislation,” she said.
Anastasia Davids, National Coloured Congress PR councillor in Atlantis, said awareness needed to be raised: “Our communities are suffering economically and they tend to take these goods because they are hungry and scared to take action.
“This does not give them (shop owners) the right to exploit people.
“Two weeks ago, I was approached by former ward councillor Rass and since we took the issue to social media, we have had a lot of responses from the community.”