Eddie Zvinonzwa 8 March 2018
HARARE – The outbreak of the world’s worst Listeria will serve as a
wake-up call to authorities in Zimbabwe as the country has continued as a
dumping ground for mostly cheap imports, especially food stuffs and drugs,
from other countries.
Listeria, which causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection
of the blood stream and brain, has killed 180 people in the past year.
According to officials, Listeriosis is a rare food-borne disease that is
spread by consumption of foods contaminated by the bacteria Listeria
The disease can also be spread from one person who is sick to others by
sharing food or through contact.
In neighbouring South Africa, there was frenzied clearing and cleaning of
shelves by supermarket chains Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths,
which also urged consumers to return the meats for refunds.
Sadly for Zimbabwe, these cheap meat product imports mainly flood the
informal market which is very difficult to regulate.
Sadly, these products are mainly bought by ordinary people who find lower
prices an incentive for them to opt for the informal market.
With the police acknowledging that there is a limit to what they can do
due to the absence of a legal framework to enforce a government ban on the
importation of cold meats from South Africa, it implies that Zimbabwe is
heavily exposed to the food-borne ailment.
A story in a top-selling daily quoted a senior Zimbabwe Republic Police
(ZRP) officer – who preferred anonymity – saying government needed to
draft a Statutory Instrument to enable law enforcement agents to assist
with the ban of cold meats from South Africa.
This latest dilemma has also shown the country’s state of preparedness in
the event of emergencies like this. Zimbabwe has a large section of the
population that thrives on informal trading, meaning that means other than
legal may not be enough to tackle the latest challenge.
These Zimbabweans, most of whom are without jobs – in a country with an
over 80 percent unemployment rate – have families to feed. There is no way
they can accept the ban on moral grounds despite the public health dangers
the importation may bring. For them, it is their livelihoods that will be
For years, Zimbabwe has grappled with counterfeit products that have
flooded the informal market.
Some formal shops have taken advantage of the laxity in the regulatory
framework and the country’s porous borders to smuggle a wide range of
medicinal drugs, an array of sex pills, skin lightening creams, bath soaps
and lotions among other commodities by circumventing controls imposed by
the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe.
Some of these drugs and lotions may have serious side effects but sadly,
no competent body has subjected them to any rigorous tests.
The major determining factor for the Zimbabwean consumer is the price,
which they consider ahead of all the possible risks the products may pose
on their health.
It is important, however, for authorities to educate the Zimbabwean public
on the risks some of these counterfeit products may pose.
Meanwhile, authorities must think beyond political expediency and ensure
products that are dangerous to people’s health are never allowed through
the country’s borders. Putting up effective regulatory and legislative
frameworks that act as safeguards for the unsuspecting customers is
In addition, clear regulations would also empower law enforcement agents
to deal with contravention of the same.
Zimbabwe let things go unwatched for too long as politics played
centre-stage while all other facets of the country’s life were left to
drift down the drain, uncontrolled. Trying to right these wrongs now
appears insensitive to those who view it as their only source of a
All the same, something has to be done, and urgently too, to get things
back to normal thereby minimising the risk of the disease among the
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