“As you can understand Dr. Snow, we have been seeing a massive rise of cases within the past three weeks within the townships of Easton, Umlambo Wamanzi and Kransestaad,” The Minister for Health and Sanitation revealed. “In total nearly two thousand people have been infected with Cholera. This is a grave situation within Cape Town. I need your help Dr. Snow in managing this outbreak.”
“Minister, whilst i can understand your need for action, I’m afraid this is a matter most serious,” Dr. Andre Snow said, his pepper hair combed back, green eyes behind rimless glasses. “Such an epidemic cannot be made secret for long. As a member of the World Health Organisation, I must insist that the national government be informed about this.”
“Andre, if I may call you that, I wish it were that simple. But you of all people must be aware of the situation we are in. Next year our government will have our National Election. In two years we will have our Municipal Elections. Our city has only just begun to recover from the drought and if our ene-I mean rival parties-were to find out, then my party would lose full control of the entire Western Province and shrink into obscurity.”
“No choice, I suppose,” Dr. Snow said. “I would however ask for help in the townships. From my poor knowledge of the city these are mostly Xhosa speaking townships. Plus having someone to act as a friend wouldn’t hurt.”
“Of course. I’ll arrange someone.”
A few moments later Dr. Snow had been introduced to his friend, Odwa Mvovo.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work with the WHO, Dr. Snow. I understand you were holidaying here?”
“Well, yes and no Odwa. We were concerned about recent reports of Cholera in the hospitals within the city. Initially it was thought that the water shortage had caused some unknown contaminant. However when we localised it we realised that the townships affected were not supplied by any of the major suspected sites.”
“So when that was found out, you were flown all the way down here to figure things out. Must be a nice change from the United States.”
“Actually I’ve never been to the United States. I was working in France with a refugee camp.”
“I see. But you’re from South Africa?”
“No, but I’ve been here before. Remember the big outbreak of Malaria along the Limpopo?”
“That was your work? I was choosing my subjects when that happened. It was that which made me decide to go into the Health and Sanitation Department.”
“Good to know I made a lasting impact.” Dr. Snow leaned forward in his seat. “What’s that building? The one with the silos?”
“Oh, that must be the old Cereals Farms & Mills packaging plant. They went bust during the transition from Apartheid to Mandela. The plant got damaged in a fire and has been abandoned since.” The car turned and the site was obscured. “Welcome to Easton Dr. Snow. The locals seem friendly.”
The first thing that struck Dr. Snow was the dashboard against his knees as they moved along the dirt road. The next thing was the sight of all the poor housing, decaying and left to ruin. Faces turned to the Government marked 4x4, some with smiles and others with blank stares.
Always the same expressions, no matter what.
“What was that Dr. Snow?”
“Hmm? Oh, nothing Odwa, nothing.” The car stopped in a large open space. A single two storey building of brick and mortar stood on the one side, whilst nearby a large queue of people stood around a pump. A worried man stood outside the open doors of the brick building.
“Hello Dr. Snow. I am Dr. Nzo. I’m from the Easton Clinic. I thought that you would appreciate some more assistance.”
“Thank you Dr. Nzo. Any help is appreciated.”
“What is with the queue?”
“It is under my instruction that the pumps be sealed off. If this epidemic gets out of hand, the entire township will erupt in protest.”
“I didn’t know you would have that power.”
“I wish I did for long Dr. Snow,” Dr. Nzo admitted. “However the only thing that is stopping them from opening the pump is that the nearest person who owns bolt cutters is ill with the Blue Death.”
“Dr. Nzo, how many people live in this township that rely on the reservoir?” Asked Odwa.
“About five thousand. With the others, you are looking at twenty thousand.”
All through the townships the same story was heard by others. Every pump possible had been shut off. Almost everywhere similar stories echoed of people who had been fine the one day and stricken the next, blue patches across their face. The clinic was overflowing with those who had the disease, along with those who had other complaints. Odwa’s resolve failed when they had wheeled a small body past, the blanket over the face. Dr. Snow lead him outside, clutching a pile of papers under his free arm.
“Odwa, breathe in.”
“Thank you Dr. Snow,” Odwa sighed, spitting on the ground. As his head cleared, he pointed to the papers. “What are the papers?”
“These are printouts of the clinical entry records. I was hoping to see if maybe we can see when this began. Perhaps then we can see if something changed.” As he sifted through the papers, Dr. Snow caught a horrific smell. As he looked up, he saw a woman carrying a bucket of water. “Stop her Odwa, ask her where she got the water!”
“Of course Dr. Snow.” Odwa ran off, speaking swiftly to the lady. As the two talked Dr. Snow stared at the bucket. It was clear, yet something about the smell was familiar. “She claims the water has smelled like that for three weeks. Almost as soon as the epidemic began. She boils the water, so that’s why she hasn’t gotten sick… Dr. Snow?”
“Take me to the plant. I want to see something.”
An hour later with a quick scan for security later, the two men wandered into the old Cereals Farms and Mills Plant. Graffiti adorned the walls inside and out. Despite calls to determine otherwise, Odwa and Dr. Snow were the only ones nearby.
“Dr. Snow, this is pointless. This factory closed before I was born. There is no way anything this plant could have anything to do with the Cholera.”
“On the contrary, it just might,” Dr. Snow barged open a door, looking around the inside of a large assembly line. “Food Processing is a messy business involving a large amount of water. The factory would have required hundreds of litres an hour per line. They have to make sure the food is clean, the workspace clean, the workers clean. That means a large amount of water, which can become a center for bacterial and viral breeding.”
“Even if that is true, where would one find so much water?”
“That is what we’re here to find out. I’ll take the upper levels, you take the lower ones. Take care Odwa.” The two split off. Dr. Snow scanned around the area, looking for some sign that he was right…
“Dr. Snow, come quick!” Snow bolted down to where he had heard the voice. Odwa stood proudly, his flashlight shining over a sign. ‘Water Treatment’.
“They had to distill the water, of course!” Dr. Snow cried in joy. “Odwa, we’ve done it. Now all we need to do is inform the Minister.”
The next day Dr. Snow and Odwa were in the private home of the Minister.
“Gentlemen, a successful endeavour for all. I cannot thank you on behalf of the City of Cape Town, let alone the Municipalities.”
“It was an honour Minister, I assure you.” Dr. Snow said. “When I smelled the water, I was reminded of my experience with a Syrian refugee camp in France. A small meat packing industry had been illegally dumping waste into the river where some of the locals gathered their water. When I smelt the water, I realised it had a similar smell. The old site made me realise that it had to be connected.”
“Astounding. But tell me, how did you know that it was the factory water supply? The plant has been empty for twenty odd years.”
“I can answer that,” Odwa said. “The company was attempting to diversify their income, so had begun to package other goods. But with the collapse on the Rand and the fall of the embargoes, they couldn’t support themselves. They declared bankruptcy during shortly before Mandela’s victory. In the confusion the demolition of the factory was pushed back and back until it fell away.”
“Well we’re certainly aware of the risks. As I speak the entire site is being sealed off and a unanimous vote has been made to demolish the site. It’ll provide a new site for a new clinic that has been required for some time.”
“And it wins votes for your party Minister.”
“Everyone’s happy then, yes?”
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