Rats, that’s not funny: Khayelitsha child bitten by rat

| Mary-Jane Matsolo
Child with rat bite on his finger.

When Premier Helen Zille was bitten by a rat last week, her spokesperson was quoted saying, “I know the City Bowl rats are mutant freaks of nature but if they’re starting to take nibbles out of people, we’re in trouble.” However, as this story of a Khayelitsha baby bitten by a rat shows, in some parts of the City, rats are no laughing matter and rats “taking nibbles out of people” are not that unusual.

Nomawethu Lamani was alerted by screams from the bedroom from her baby while she was preparing her morning porridge before going to work. When she went inside the room she says she saw a large rat jumping from the bed and her child covered in blood.

“At first I didn’t know where the rat had bitten her, because her whole face was covered in blood. I was screaming and crying and realized that the blood was coming from her finger,” said Lamani.

After washing her baby she gave her paracetamol and left her with a baby sitter and went to work. When she returned her baby had a rash all over her body and a temperature. The child minder told her that soon after she left the baby developed a temperature. Her eyes were rolling and her body turned red.

Lamani set about looking for her ward councillor, Amos Komeni, to report the container situated close by her house which she believes is the cause of the rats. GroundUp ran a story on this container and the rats living in it on 6 February 2013

Lamani could not find the councillor. Our attempts to contact the councillor were also frustrating. Three times we spoke to him but the line was so unclear that it kept on cutting. A second number listed on the Councillors’ website reached voice-mail.

Lamani did however report the situation of the rats to the cleaners of the container the following day. They told her that they put poison inside and around the container to try and fight the rats. “But that is the reason why the rats then come to our homes,” she said to them. “They are running away from the poison in the container. Why don’t you give us the same poison to use in our homes too?” she asked them? She was told by the cleaners to go collect poison at a place called Empilisweni in Site C. They also gave her a telephone number to call. Lamani looked for this place but could not find it. The person who answered the telephone number she was given did not know what she was talking about.

The following day her baby was swollen all over her body. She took her to the Michael Maphongwana clinic. There the baby was given an injection and medication and told to come back after three days for a checkup.

“Since that day I am afraid to sleep in my house. I sleep at a friend’s house nearby. I will not come back until I have that poison or that container is moved.”

A Khayelitsha doctor we spoke to explained that treating rat bites in Khayelitsha is not common but neither is it unusual.

In our 6 February article, we reported that Ernest Sonnenberg, Mayoral Committee for Utility Services, said when suitable places for the storage containers were identified, the City would consult with the community representatives. Sonnenberg said his department had requested the City’s health department to investigate the rat problem at the container. Almost two months later the container is still in the same place and the rats are still there. We asked Sonnenberg for comment again. He responded with this email:

The City never promised to move this shipping container. As part of being a Caring City whenever the City receives complaints such as this one the situation is investigated and the best solution will always be to find an alternative location for the shipping container that is further away from the residents houses. This was done relating to this specific complaint in consultation with the ward councillor, but due to the high density in the area no alternative location could be found.

It is important to note that there is a housing development currently taking place in Town Two which results in all available open spaces been utilised to temporary locate informal structures while houses are being built. Once this housing project is finalised and open spaces will be available again the option of an alternative location for this indicated shipping container can be relooked at.

As stated in the article the main cause of the problem is the illegal dumping of waste by some surrounding residents. The complainant in the article acknowledges that the workers clean around the container on a daily basis (as per their job requirements) by bagging all waste and locking bags away in the shipping container prior to its removal to landfill site. The problem is that as soon as the workers leave the area to do their other tasks the illegal dumping continues. It is important for the offending residents to know that illegal dumping is a fineable offence. Illegal dumping is a severe problem City wide and whilst it continues the presence of rats is inevitable.

The shipping container is an essential tool to ensure effective service delivery in any informal area as it is used to store all collected waste prior to transport to a landfill site and if used effectively the challenges would be minimal. The removal of the container is therefore not an option as it will hinder this vital service.

The Health Directorate staff conducts on-going community education on the health risk of poor waste management. However obtaining buy-in and community compliance is of vital importance.

TOPICS:  Housing Sanitation

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