, 16 September, 2020 / 8:05 PM
The leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is demanding justice for more than 2,000 victims of the 2018 Listeriosis Outbreak, an infection described as the worst of its kind in the world.
In a Tuesday, September 14 interview, the Coordinator of JPC, Fr. Stan Muyebe told ACI Africa that in the wake of the outbreak as a result of the consumption of listeria-infected processed meat, “more than 300 families lost their loved ones and more than 2,000 people got sick” in a period of three months.
“The majority of the victims of listeriosis outbreak were the poor since processed meat is food that is affordable to the poor,” Fr. Stan told ACI Africa and added, “Most of the victims are from Gauteng, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Durban” regions of South Africa.
To ensure justice for the sick and the families of the deceased, the SACBC official said that the leadership of JPC “is at the forefront of a class action lawsuit” against South Africa’s largest food company, Tiger Brands, whose subsidiary, Enterprise Foods produced the meat.
He decried the fact that Tiger Brands has refused to apologize and has been protracting the process of the lawsuit, a move he said his office in partnership with the victims’ lawyers is seeking measures to contest.
“We do not want a situation where the poor have to wait for more than ten years before they can receive justice and closure. Justice delayed is often justice denied,” he said during the September 14 interview.
With the Listeriosis Outbreak class action lawsuit likely to take time, Fr. Stan said that the role of the Church is “not solely a technical process” but one that involves “pastoral accompaniment, including counselling and healing, for the victims of human rights abuses by businesses.”
In its quest to achieve justice for the victims of human rights violations by Multinational Corporations (MNCs), the JPC Coordinator said that his office is also seeking to shine light on the human face behind corporate greed and economic globalization.
In working with the victims of the Listeriosis Outbreak, JPC officials provide a platform for the victims “to regain their voice and their ability to tell their stories,” Fr. Stan told ACI Africa and added that before COVID-19, they were partnering in this endeavor with artists and the historical Constitutional Hill Museum.
“In relation to victims of listeriosis, the voiceless have been able to tell their stories: a story of a family where both parents died on the same day from listeriosis leaving behind two orphans who are now suffering to make ends meet; a story of a neighborhood in Soweto where three families lost their loved ones on the same day after eating listeria-infected meat,” he told ACI Africa.
The victims of listeriosis in South Africa, Fr. Stan continued, tell “a story of a young mother who lost a husband while pregnant and later delivered a baby who now has adverse health conditions as a result of listeriosis infection. She lost her job because she spent more than five months in hospital with her sick daughter. She has no resources to cover regular medical bills for her sick daughter.”
“These are all stories of pain, arising from corporate greed. Our ministry as a Church has been to accompany the victims so that they transform their stories into that of hope and justice,” the South African Priest told ACI Africa during the September 14 interview.
The capitalist and corporate driven economic globalization, Fr. Stan further said, has challenged the Church in Africa to focus not only on its prophetic role of speaking truth to power and politicians but “to include an additional dimension ... namely, demanding human rights accountability from powerful multinational corporations.”
Besides Tiger Brands company, Fr. Stan also highlighted other MNCs such as vehicle manufacturing company, Toyota and mining companies whose operations in South Africa “have caused incidents of massive harm in the lives of the poor.”
JPC officials are also participating in class action lawsuits to hold mining companies “to account for their failure to prevent an epidemic of silicosis and black lung disease among the poor who worked in gold mining companies and coal mining companies respectively,” he told ACI Africa.
Due to the vulnerability of the sick miners and the victims of listeriosis, Fr. Stan revealed that some of them had succumbed to COVID-19.
The JPC Coordinator is concerned that the majority of the victims of corporate violations of human rights are the poor who “do not have resources, power and a voice when confronted by such giants as multinational corporations.”
As a result, he told ACI Africa, MNCs operating in Africa “literally get away with murder and injuries without consequences and accountability,” a culture of impunity, which the Church in South Africa is working to change with a message “that the lives of the poor are more important than wealth creation for investors.”
“Defending the dignity of the poor is more important than defending the autonomy of the markets and the private sector,” Fr. Stan told ACI Africa in the September 14 interview.
He added, “It should not be business as usual when the mining industry, in their corporate greed, deliberately creates an epidemic of lung disease among its workers in an African country.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa