A train carrying large quantities of grain in the North West went off the rails on Wednesday, with looters quick to pounce on the product.
The train derailed near Matolong village in Taung, creating an utter frenzy as residents of the poverty-stricken community clambered for grain, filling their pockets, buckets and other containers.
But police in the province have sent out urgent warnings to looters that the grain is not fit for human consumption.
“The grain is treated with fertilizers and poisons, and not fit for human consumption. Community members are requested to not eat it, as it will make them sick,” said a police spokesperson.
Conflicting reports have emerged from residents in the area, who have suggested that there is no way that the grain would not be edible.
“I’m from that village and the majority of the community there are farmers. They’re not that stupid not to know or see that there’s something wrong with the grain and if there’s anything wrong with the grain that means our animals are also going to die because they graze next to that railway line where there’s no fence at all,” resident Goodwin Seriba told The Herald.
“All I can say is thank God for sending us seed so early in the year,” he added.
Either way, I’m not sure anyone should be taking their chances.
Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn‚ director at Griffon Poison Information Centre told The Herald that the scenario offered by Makgata was possible.
“It could be that when loading grain onto trucks, there is something they use called phosphine gas. It is used to protect the grain, but, yes, it doesn’t have a long life and usually it is gone within a day or two. However, it can have a profound effect on humans and animals if the grain is consumed before the gas wears off,” he said.
“It can cause headaches, dizziness, shivering, vomiting, nausea and it can kill people,” Verdoorn added.
At the time of writing on Thursday, no cases of illness resulting from consumption of the grain have been reported.