CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The cookies, candies, jams and juice were destined for a dump when Themba Mgodla took them as payment for loading a truck. Only some of the goods he planned to sell in his squatter camp turned out to be a decade old, sickening more than 100 people.
"We only saw that the food was spoiled hours later, when people came to us and said their children were sick," said Mgodla, who was among those treated for food poisoning over the weekend.
Desperate for work, Mgodla said he had gone to a factory food shop seeking employment. A driver there was supposed to take the food items to a dump, but offered to let Mgodla have the load in exchange for helping put it on a truck.
He planned to sell the food, not knowing that some of the expiration dates went as far back as 2000. Once he got to his squatter camp, some of his hungry neighbors snatched goods from him.
Wilfred Solomons-Johannes of the city's emergency response department said all those sickened had recovered by Monday. Authorities are trying to determine how to proceed with charges under the city's health regulations, Solomons-Johannes said.
Polile Park, where the food poisoning struck, is near one of Cape Town's most popular beaches. Upscale houses are nearby, but the 1,000 or so squatter camp residents live in zinc-roofed shacks without electricity, and rely on communal water supplies and toilets.
Zithobile Maqamunca, a community leader in the camp, said he was working with police and city officials to collect the tainted food Monday. But poverty was making that difficult, he said.
"Some of the people don't want to give it up."