The EDTEA offices at Jabu Ndlovu Street in Pietermaritzburg where roaming and dead rats led to employees having to work remotely. Photo: Nqubeko Mbhele
Dozens of state employees who work at a government department in the Pietermaritzburg city centre had to flee their building due to a severe rat infestation.
Staff at the Department of Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) in Jabu Ndlovu Street were ordered to vacate the building as management feared the growing infestation posed a health risk.
Apart from the risk of disease, staff and visitors to the building had to endure the stench of rat urine, faeces and dead, decomposing rodents that had spread through the building.
A memorandum was issued to employees by the department’s chief director of corporate services, instructing managers at the building to “release staff members due to the outbreak of rodents” at 270 Jabu Ndlovu Street.
Employees, who spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity, said the stench — which emanates from dead rodents — was intolerable.
“The department is currently experiencing an outbreak of rodents at 270 Jabu Ndlovu Street which is affecting the hygiene of the building due to the stench and infestation that has become evident within the building, programme managers are requested to release their staff and make arrangements for them to work remotely.
“It must be noted that employees should be reachable at all times to perform their duties in accordance with the remote working policy of the department,” reads the memo.
The employees said it was difficult to walk in the corridors of the second floor and that the stink was filtering into offices.
“We spot maggot-infested corners as they [maggots] feast on the dead rats. Some dead rats are not easily spotted as they die in hidden areas and this makes the situation worse.
“Prior to the memo asking us to vacate the building, some employees had to abandon their offices and work with other colleagues and this has been like this for over a week,” said one employee.
Staff say there have been measures taken to tackle the problem, including the installation of rat traps, which in some instance exacerbated the issue.
“Remember, these rats pass through these traps but when they die they don’t decide when and where the poison should take effect. This means that the rats can die in unreachable areas of this floor,” said a staff member.
“The problem should not have been left to reach this extent, now we don’t even know when we should return to work as the memo is not clear.”
Msunduzi’s environmental health manager, Clive Anthony, said his unit carries out vector control methods to identify rodents, their habitats, and breeding places.
“Owners and occupiers of public and private premises have a responsibility to maintain their properties free of rodents. The provincial Department of Economic Development in Jabu Ndlovu Street would need to have a vector baiting/spraying plan.
“If the property is owned by the government, then the Department of Public Works could assist, otherwise, the services of a private pest control service provider would be required.
“The Environmental Health unit will bait the immediate precinct to mitigate rodent activity in the streets and around shopping areas, especially those areas conducive to rodent attraction and harbourage,” said Anthony.
Pest control expert Don Smale attributed the infestation to uncollected refuse left rotting on the pavement outside the building in the CBD. He said on rainy days, the rubbish gets washed into the drains and this contributes to conditions that are beneficial to breeding.
“Once the rats establish themselves they move into the buildings. Tamper-proof bait stations need to be installed around the affected building. Hygiene is crucial because rodents carry diseases and this compromises the health of those inhabiting the affected building,” said Smale.
He said once an infestation intensifies, it becomes difficult to bring the problem under control.
“It takes about 14 days for a rat to die. The bigger the rat, the bigger the amount of poison needed from the rat trap, so at times not the entire rat family gets its share of the poison. For this reason, it is important to replenish the bait stations timeously.”
Complaints on rodent infestation can be lodged with the Environmental Health unit on 033 392 2344/5.
Meanwhile, contrary to what the employees who spoke to The Witness said, Edtea MEC Siboniso Duma’s spokesperson, Ndabezinhle Sibiya said this was an old issue.
He said the memo was issued last week and that employees were back at work.
Sibiya added that a pest control company was called in to fumigate.
This article was first published in The Witness.