Johannesburg faces rat plague

A health disaster looms as Johannesburg rubbish piles up from 3-week sanitation-workers’ strike

Joburg Sanitation Workers Strike Apr2011 Lucas Kunene, the DA Candidate in Ward 65 (Malvern in East Johannesburg) says he has seen rats running around the suburb as he canvasses. Kunene recently retired as Manager of Environment Health in Johannesburg and is an expert in this field. According to Kunene, it takes about three weeks for a rat explosion that can spread disease. Rats are especially dangerous to children as they can gnaw at them while they are asleep. Some rat populations in South Africa also still carry fleas which can cause bubonic plague. Flies are another problem as well as cockroaches.

BUBONIC PLAGUE HISTORY SA RKK MOLEFIPeople in squatter camps and overcrowded inner city tenements are particularly at risk because of deficient sanitation. This is not the first rubbish strike and the city should have had contingency plans with private contractors to pick up the trash, he said. It’s another example of appalling mismanagement in this city.

South Africa has a history of bubonic plague:  which first reached Southern Africa through its harbours at the height of the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902 by the large number of people and (military) horses arriving in the country, according to a study by R.K.K. Molefi of the University of Botswana, published in 1997.

It is spread as a disease from specific fleas found on rodents: a specific species of fleas from rats who die of the plague –  if unable to find another live rodent host – will jump on people instead and start infecting then whenever they live near human habitats.  After the first out break in February 1901 near the Cape Town docks amongst the working-class population, bubonic plague became endemic in Southern Africa, wrote Molefi, and natural rerservoirs still exist in the region. (source: Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies Vol 15 No 2 2001) .

About Adriana Stuijt
Retired South African-Dutch journalist formerly Sunday Times Johannesburg

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