At least 100 people are murdered in Johannesburg alone with the banned pesticide Aldicarb every year. This is according to poison expert Gerhard Verdoorn, who says the poison known colloquially as Two Step and in Sotho, Halipirimi, is responsible for at least 800 dog poisonings every week in South Africa.

Aldicarb is a pesticide, banned for both use and possession in South Africa. Despite this, it is still readily and openly available on any street corner, sold for next to nothing as a rat poison. Verdoorn estimates that it results in many more human deaths annually.

“It is very dangerous to people. It is sold on street corners to kill rodents but if you go deep undercover you realise that they sell it for suicides and for homicides. I know for a fact that in Johannesburg alone there are one hundred homicides per year that we know of with Aldicarb. The suicides are rife among young people, because the chemical is so available.”

Cora Bailey is the director of Community Lead Animal Welfare (CLAW) which operates a clinic on the abandoned Durban Deep mine, west of Johannesburg.

She says at least a third of the animals brought to the clinic have been poisoned with Aldicarb. She says in one week they would easily treat fifteen dogs poisoned in a single day. While this poison wreaks havoc on the animals of Durban Deep, Bailey has witnessed the effects on the human population too…

“Numerous people commit suicide with this poison and it’s been used in murder cases too. In our immediate community, we have very tragic cases. It’s so readily available that obviously it would be used for other criminal purposes and for the very desperate to commit suicide.”

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Bailey says while the animal poisonings touch her deeply, she will never forget the human cases she has seen.

“One was a thirteen-year-old youngster who ingested the poison as they felt that suicide was the only way out. There’s another incident where a young mother with a seven-month-old baby committed suicide after a disagreement with her boyfriend. Sadly, she passed away. If those are just within a one-kilometre radius of our clinic, I hate to think what goes on elsewhere. I do believe it’s more common than we think.”

Sitting in a sparsely furnished room, *Nomandla who wishes to remain anonymous, wrings her hands and stares at the floor as her eyes fill with tears…

“It’s a problem because some people don’t use it for rats, they use it on people, you see. Somebody can just maybe buy a beer or some food and just put the poison in it for you to die. It’s very dangerous because it’s very quick.”

Nomandla shakes her head sadly. She knows the effects of Aldicarb too well. Years ago, a young mother that she regarded as one of her own children – poisoned herself after adding the black granules to a tub of yogurt and feeding the mixture to her three young children.

“It was on a Sunday. When I came back from the church they phoned me to tell me that the mother gave her kids the poison and that two of the children were dead. They were small kids who died with that poison, a one-year-old and a three-year-old. The third child survived because they were older. The mother also survived.”

After mentioning a rat problem, vendors immediately show the best solution on offer – grey-black granules in a small, unmarked, clear plastic bag. Photo by Nina Oosthuizen.

SABC News took to the streets to see how easily this poison is available. Within seconds of stepping outside the Sunshine Plaza shopping complex in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, SABC News journalists were surrounded by street vendors with the banned substance. Photos by Nina Oosthuizen.

Verdoorn says this story about suicide is one he has heard too often.

“In our current situation with the economy and politics in a very poor state people have become so desperate that their only way out is to commit suicide. They will first kill the children and then they wipe themselves out. Unfortunately, because you can buy Aldicarb on every street corner, they know its street name Two Step means that you take the stuff, you walk two steps and you’re dead.”

“We will get a call from the police saying that there’s a case opened of a corpse in the mortuary and it’s horrifying when they find black granules in the stomach contents in the post-mortem. The moment you hear the words ‘black granules’ – you know it’s Aldicarb.”

While the woman in question served her prison sentence, Nomandla’s family was struck by another Aldicarb tragedy.

“He was young, only 20-years-old. One day he just went and bought that poison. He then walked to the mountain and on top of the mountain, he drank that poison before he came down. The boy, he died. They didn’t even have a chance to take him to the hospital because when the paramedics tried to help him, the poison was already in his stomach.”

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She believes that Aldicarb is too dangerous to be allowed to be sold on street corners…

“They say that poison is good for the rats, it’s good for the rats – but not for the people. I think from my side they mustn’t sell that poison because it is very dangerous. Sometimes  we are scared because if you get the fight with your kids then your kids can easily get that poison and kill themselves.”

Verdoorn says that small children are also often the secondary victims when poisoned bait is used by criminals to target dogs before a housebreaking…

“We don’t exactly know how many are poisoned but I can tell you it is literally hundreds a year in South Africa.”

“If you think about it the number of children wandering about that can easily gain access to that meat so it would be just as tempting to a toddler as it would be to a dog.” Explains Bailey.

Bailey and Verdoorn say one should never buy unmarked poison off the streets, and urge communities to report vendors selling suspected banned substances to the nearest police station.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of people concerned.