The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended against a trade ban on South African meat products as a result of the on-going listeria outbreak. “WHO does not currently recommend any trade related measures in relation to the current outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa‚ other than the recall of products identified as sources of infection‚” the organisation is quoted in a report in The Times as saying.
Nearly 200 South Africans died since January last year as a result of ready-to-eat meat products that were widely consumed in the country and may have been exported to two West African countries and 14 members of the South African Development Community. “Namibia has reported one confirmed case of listeriosis‚ a man who was admitted to hospital in early March. An investigation is ongoing to determine whether the case is connected to the outbreak in South Africa‚” the organisation said.
Tiger Brands‘ Enterprise factory in Polokwane was infected with ST6 listeria‚ the strain that caused illness in 91% of the people who got listeriosis. This prompted a national and international recall of the food products.
“However‚ in light of the potentially long incubation period of listeriosis and the challenges relating to large-scale nationwide recall processes‚ further cases are likely to occur‚” WHO said.
The report says experts have been deployed in South Africa‚ Lesotho and Swaziland. “This outbreak is a wake-up call for countries in the region to strengthen their national food safety and disease surveillance systems‚” said the organisation’s Africa regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
Meanwhile, Tiger Brands has reason to worry after the Esidimeni arbitration award‚ as life might not be so cheap anymore. The Times reports that this is according to Richard Spoor‚ a class action lawyer representing families who lost loved ones from listeriosis who said that this huge payout to people who weren’t earning money sets a precedent. Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke last week awarded R1m in constitutional damages to 68 survivors and 67 families who lost loved ones in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
The report says Tiger Brands’ Enterprise factory in Polokwane was infected with ST6 listeria‚ the strain that caused illness in 91% of the people who got listeriosis. Spoor said many people who died from listeria were old or poor or very young and pay-outs for them would usually be low.
In South African law‚ if someone is harmed or dies through state or company negligence‚ the pay-out to the family is mainly to compensate for loss of earnings. Poor people can die at the hands of state or business with no cost implications for the guilty parties.
Spoor said: “Unless you are a breadwinner‚ killing you has no consequence (in civil claims). In South Africa‚ life is cheap‚ children are cheap‚ babies are cheap.”
But, the report says, on the final day of the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings‚ Moseneke awarded R1.2m to families of the dead who had earned nothing as they were institutionalised psychiatric patients. Of this‚ R1m was for constitutional damages. Rights group Section 27‚ who represented 63 families‚ noted that Moseneke had found the state had grossly violated “the constitutional right to human dignity‚ the founding values of the constitution and the principles governing public administration‚ the right to family life and the right to access to quality healthcare services”.
The report says Spoor’s case is a class action law suit by people who lost babies or loved ones to listeriosis. The Esidimeni case was an arbitration hearing in which the state came to the table and admitted liability. But despite the legal differences‚ Spoor still believes Moseneke’s judgment matters. “He is a renowned jurist. Anything he says is taken by lawyers and the courts very seriously.”
Spoor said litigating for the poor is not done often because pay-outs are so small if low earners or the destitute were harmed or killed. But the Life Esidimeni judgment awarding constitutional damages‚ which are not linked to earnings or wealth‚ bodes ill for Tiger Brands.
Spoor said: “We were considering asking for constitutional damages in this case. We were thinking about it. Moseneke’s ruling is hugely encouraging for us.”
The report says before the hearings began‚ Moseneke said he would seek to decide what a life was worth “in a country where half of people were not earning (a salary)”. “If someone invades their dignity‚ how do they get compensated?” said Moseneke.
Speaking on how damages are linked to the loss of future earnings‚ he said a month before the hearings: “There is quite a big debate to be had here. If you have no money whatsoever‚ do we just say sorry if you’re dead?”