South African prison evacuated after deadly rat infestation

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African prison that once held Nelson Mandela is being evacuated after two prisoners died from a disease carried by rats, authorities said on Wednesday.

More than 4,000 prisoners will be moved from Cape Town’s Pollsmoor Prison due to a rat infestation, provincial spokesman Simphiwe Xako said.

The inmates, both men and women, will be relocated to other prisons around the Western Cape province in the next few weeks, Xako said. The prison will be fumigated once it is empty.

Two prisoners died from leptospirosis, a disease spread by rodents, Xako said. No other prisoners have shown symptoms of the disease, he said.

“Pollsmoor is a very old facility,” said Xako. “There have always been rats.”

South Africa’s late former President Mandela was held at the Pollsmoor Prison from 1982 to 1988. The prison was built to hold 4,000 inmates, but is overcrowded by more than 250 percent, said Xako.

After an inspection, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement that overcrowding, inadequate waste management and blocked drains contributed to the infestation.

Leptospirosis is spread when humans come into contact with infected rodent urine, the institute said. The disease has non-specific symptoms, such as fever, muscle and organ failure.


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