Johannesburg faces rat plague

Posted on | april 19, 2011 | No Comments

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

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.

Threat from bubonic plague still exists in SA
People 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) .

Warnings of bubonic-plague threats have been issued since 2001
The booming rat population in South Africa’s squallid inner cities and sprawling squatter settlements provide the perfect breeding grounds for a new bubonic plague epidemic — yet a top poison expert’s warnings since 2001 remain unheeded. Prof. Gerhard Verdoorn, at that time the chairman of the Poison Working Group of South Africa — affiliated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust – warned that outbreaks of bubonic plague placed South Africa’s millions of people infected with hiv-aids at particularly high risk. Verdoorn said his organisation had been getting close to 100 complaints a day (in 2001) from people around South Africa battling huge rat infestations. He insisted that these conditions were “ripe for a return of bubonic plague”, also known as the Black Death, especially because of hiv-aids infected people’s low immune systems. Prof Verdoorn was appointed director of Birdlife South Africa in 2004, and is an ardent conservationist and bird-lover, and widely respected for his valuable work as former head of the Poison Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

* Death toll: 3,769 “white” farmers murdered up to December 23, 2010


AUTHOR: Adriana Stuijt
E-MAIL: a.j.stuijt [at]


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