Listeriosis victims seek payout, closure

Mpotseng Moloi of Alexandra, Johannesburg, and daughter Nomahlubi survived the food-borne illness, listeriosis.
Mpotseng Moloi of Alexandra, Johannesburg, and daughter Nomahlubi survived the food-borne illness, listeriosis.
Image: Thulani Mbele

SA's listeriosis outbreak might have ended four months ago, but for Silindile Mbatha of Soweto the painful memory of losing a baby will remain for a lifetime.

Mbatha, who spoke to Sowetan yesterday, is among 272 people who have signed up as claimants in a class action lawsuit against food giant, Tiger Brands, after they contracted listeriosis. Tiger Brands' meat processing factory in Polokwane was identified as one of the sources of the outbreak.

Lawyers representing victims and the relatives of the deceased were expected to file court papers by the end of next week after the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg granted them certification to go ahead with the class action last year.

The outbreak which was traced to contaminated Tiger Brands cold meat products polony, viennas and russians resulted in more than 200 deaths while there were 1,065 confirmed laboratory cases. Most of those affected were pregnant women and infants.

Yesterday, Mbatha recalled the day she went into premature labour at just seven months of pregnancy.

"I was experiencing pains and decided to go to the clinic. They gave me medication but the pains intensified. I was vomiting and feeling feverish."

Mbatha, 36, said she was later rushed to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl. The baby was rushed to the intensive care unit but died later that day.

"My heart was broken. It was not the first time I was losing a baby. I had thought that things would be different this time around. I was looking forward to having a daughter."

She said health officials later informed her that she had contracted listeriosis after tests were performed. Mbatha said she had consumed polony and russians while pregnant which she believed might have caused the infection.

Another claimant Mpotseng Moloi, 36, from Alexandra said she noticed that her baby had stopped moving a few days before her due date in January last year. Moloi said she decided to consult with a doctor who later referred her to a private hospital.

"They admitted me immediately because my temperature was too high and the baby's heart beat was weak. I was rushed to the theatre for a Caesarean section," Moloi said.

She said that's when doctors realised that the situation was dire as her amniotic fluid was green and had a bad smell.

Moloi said the baby's skin was also unusually yellow. She said after placing her daughter in an isolation ward and running tests, doctors were able to confirm listeriosis.

"I remember watching the news from the hospital bed and seeing the minister talk about people who died because of the disease. That's when I realised how serious it was. I was traumatised," Moloi said.

She felt fortunate that her baby survived the ordeal.

"I want justice. I want this case to be a lesson to companies to be more careful when it comes to food hygiene. Other people were not as fortunate as I am because they died."

Tiger Brands released a statement after certification of the class action was granted, saying they would support the process of notifying possible claimants about the case. The company had stated that no liability established against them in connection with the outbreak was confirmed.

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