A curio vendor based at Thokozani Craft Market in Victoria Falls reportedly died, while 70 others were left bedridden after they consumed a suspected poisonous substance they picked from a dumpsite.
The vendors had been misled that it was alcohol left over by foreign tourists.
The vendors told Southern Eye at the weekend that they picked the substance from a dumpsite near Shearwater Explorers Lodge on June 16 and shared it.
One of the vendors, Shelton Ndlovu said it all started during mid-morning where curio dealers, including those from Busy Island market were invited for a sip of the unknown substance before all later complained of stomach aches.
“We were standing with tourists near the gate opposite the lodge with one tourist and the company’s gardener Jabulani Sibanda offered me the ‘beer’, but I did not drink it as I do not take alcohol. As a norm, we usually get handouts from tourists from that lodge, so we did not think that it was poisonous,” he said.
“People were called under the shade to come and have a drink, but I heard them saying that the beer had a strange taste and was oily, but they thought that it was too mature and they continued while some immediately stopped.”
Sibanda yesterday denied claims that he had supplied the suspected poisoned beer.
“They asked if they could take it and I agreed. People from high-density suburbs, due to poverty, visit the dumpsite every day for food leftovers and other unwanted goods left behind by tourists and after this incident, the company has proposed putting a secured and locked structure to save lives because one of them has died,” Sibanda said.
Another affected vendor, Gift Nyathi (33) said as the day progressed, many started complaining of weak joints, fever and vomiting, but they did not think it was the “beer”.
“We got drunk, but in a weird manner and I did not sleep the whole night. The pain kept worsening and I was rushed to hospital where I was given malaria vaccine because my eyes and hands had turned yellow. I went back to the hospital on June 25 because the stomach pain was getting worse and was advised to undergo blood tests, but I have failed to do that because I had no money. I had borrowed $6 for a stamp. I can’t raise $68 for the test,” Nyathi said.
Fiselani Ndlovu said: “We went in large numbers, but we have all been given MMTs and discharged. As you can see, I can hardly walk. I have unending running stomach and it has severely burnt my privates going down. I was also told by nurses that no treatment was going to be given to me unless I produce blood test results. We are trying to source funds to go to Zambia and get medication because our condition is worsening day by day, and some have stopped coming to work. My wife is worried and she asks me what will become of them when I die and that is my worst fear.”
The vendors chairperson, Mandlenkosi Sibanda appealed for urgent medical assistance, saying the majority of the vendors were now bed-ridden.
“One died on Saturday from Mkhosana while the other was transferred to Bulawayo. Based on such reports, it is very worrying because the hospital is rejecting them and they spend all their day in agony. I would like to appeal to the Health ministry or any donor to intervene because these people make less than $100 per month and are more than 70. They cannot afford $68 for (blood) tests and if they can be given a payment plan rather than being left to die like this would be better,” he said.
“Yesterday (on Saturday) the hospital said they must bring at least 500 millilitres of that liquid to be sent to a laboratory, but since it was taken to different places we only managed to give them what we had, we don’t know what will follow as they insisted that they wanted more samples.”
The association said they had not yet made a police report. Victoria Falls district medical officer Wisdom Kurauone yesterday said he would issue a statement later in the day, but had not done so at the time of going to print.