Maputo — Sales of bananas in Maputo have plummeted following the circulation of malicious e-mails and mobile phone text messages claiming that South African bananas are infected with a lethal bacteria.
The bananas sold in Maputo are grown in Mozambique, not South Africa indeed, Mozambique exports bananas to South Africa. But this has made no difference to panic-stricken consumers who are avoiding the fruit altogether.
The Ministry of Health has assured consumers that the messages are a hoax and that nobody has appeared at any Mozambican health unit suffering from illness caused by infected bananas.
The Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Trade issued a joint statement on Wednesday stating "there is no record of the entry of any infected bananas into the country", and guaranteeing that staff on the borders are careful to avoid the entry into the country of any infected produce.
This has not done the banana sellers in Maputo any good at all. One of the suppliers of bananas to the Maputo market, Horacio Simbine, told the independent television channel STV, that he has been unable to move bananas out of his warehouse because of the rumour.
Yet none of his bananas come from South Africa. Simbine said they are all produced by the company Bananalandia, in Boane district, about 30 kilometres west of Maputo. Mozambique has not imported bananas from South Africa for the past ten years, he said.
The authorities in the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal, where the lethal bananas are supposed to come from, have also stressed that there is no reason for alarm. South African banana producers have publicly expressed their indignation at the malicious hoax.
The hoaxers claimed that the bacterium involved causes necrotizing fasciitis, an extremely rare infection of the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues, often referred to as a "flesh eating disease". It cannot be caused by eating fruit.