South Africa

RAGING NATURE

Deadly KZN floods bring tales of tragedy and sorrow

Johan Fourie’s house in Amanzimtoti, Durban, collapsed after a storm on 22 April 2019 caused the soil beneath it to become unstable. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

At least 51 people are dead in the devastating storms that have swept KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, leaving a swathe of destruction in their wake. But in a high election season, and amid the grieving, some politicians still couldn’t resist using the occasion to slip in some electioneering.

Update: On Thursday morning acting KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala announced that the death toll from the flooding had risen to 70. This was later clarified by the department of corporate governance to 67.

A family of three, including a pregnant woman, died in the early hours of Wednesday, 24 April 2019, when their informal dwelling in the Clare Estate, Reservoir Hills informal settlement collapsed on top of them. They were one of a number of families in the area affected by the torrential rains in KwaZulu-Natal.

The aftermath of the storm claimed the lives of 51 people, with some still unaccounted for, according to the KZN Co-operative Governance Department. There is still no estimate of how many people have been displaced by the floods. Officials say that there had been more than 300mmrain in 48 hours, and many residents were unprepared for the intensity of the deluge.

Ntombenhle Mthethwa drove to Reservoir Hills, Durban from eMpangeni to make funeral arrangements for her niece, who died during the storm on 22 April 2019. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

Ntombenhle Mthethwa drove from eMpangeni to attend to funeral arrangements for her pregnant niece. Her niece was an orphan and her family does not have funds to arrange a burial.

We don’t know how we will pay for the funeral arrangements. At the moment we have no money and we don’t know what to do,” Mthethwa told Daily Maverick. She is unemployed, but works temporary jobs and sells tomatoes for extra income. She had been assisting her niece financially.

Siyabonga Zulu, a Maskandi musician who stayed in the Clare Estate, Reservoir Hills informal settlement in Durban, died along with his family after a mudslide destroyed their home on 22 April 2019 (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

The dead-woman, Nombulelo Mthethwa, was living with her partner, Siyabonga Zulu. Their four-year-old daughter, Lusanda, was also killed when the house collapsed.

Zulu, was known in the area as a talented Maskandi musician with the stage name ‘Minnie Cooper’. His close friend Philani Ngidi (25) told Daily Maverick that he and Zulu were neighbours in the informal settlement. “We got close because of music.”

The pair had recently started a Maskandi band together, an activity they did on the side when they weren’t working as handymen.

Zulu had seen the house collapse earlier that morning and watched as rescue teams dragged his friend’s body out of the wreckage.

I had no chance to help. It was really hard.”

He was clearly still in shock.

Seeing his body, I nearly lost it. Is this really happening or not?”

IFP President Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, along with a dozen other IFP members, visited the area on Wednesday, 24 April, to deliver food parcels to the victims. Mthethwa, along with the family of the deceased, received one of these parcels from Buthelezi along with a handful of R100 notes.

I appreciate that they’ve given us food so we can live, it doesn’t offend me because it’s allowed in South Africa,” Zulu’s other neighbour, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of violence, told Daily Maverick.

The 25-year-old lives in the informal settlement with his mother and two siblings. He’s lived there since 2013 and says the storm has taken “everything”.

Look at how we’re living, we have nowhere to sleep, how can we continue forward?”

Reservoir Hills was one of the areas affected by the floods that devastated KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape this week.

The areas hit the hardest are Reservoir Hills by Clare Estate, the informal settlement there, the informal settlements in Umlazi and the informal settlements in Marriannhill,” Garrith Jamieson, Rescue Care spokesperson, told Daily Maverick.

Other places have been hit. These are houses that have been demolished.”

The heavy rain caused embankments to collapse in several areas around Durban, which consists mainly of houses built on hills. Due to the unstable ground on which these homes are built, they are at increased risk during storms.

One example of this is a home on Crimby Avenue in Chatsworth. The house was built at the base of an embankment, below the tennis courts of Westcliff Secondary School. The school’s caretaker along with three other families had been living there. On the night of the storm, they had two visitors over for dinner.

At around 9pm on Monday, 22 April, the rain caused the embankment to collapse and the house was buried under a mudslide. There were 10 people trapped inside, including two children. Neighbours said they “could hear them screaming for help inside”.

Community members rushed to the now-buried house to try and rescue those trapped. Rodney, 32, who didn’t want to give his surname, lives in the area and arrived at the house at around 10pm. He did not leave until after 7pm the next evening.

Rescue Care came that night, but the rain was too heavy. They couldn’t do anything so they left,” Rodney told Daily Maverick.

Rescue Care returned on Tuesday morning, 23 April, after the rain had eased off. It took them several hours to clear enough of the debris and mud before they could get to the people inside. Seven bodies were recovered and the remaining three were sent to hospital, one of whom died there.

Over and above these eight deaths, others have also lost their homes to the floods. While no shelters have been set up for those displaced by the storm, many community halls and religious spaces are being offered as temporary accommodation.

A church in Westcliff, Chatsworth set up mattresses in the chapel to provide shelter for those displaced by the floods. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

The AFM Miracle Tabernacle Church, on Crimby Avenue, Chatsworth, near the house that had been buried in a mudslide, set up mattresses in a chapel and was planning to house up to 50 people.

The most affected people are those who live in shacks and those who live in RDP houses,” said a 50-year-old woman living in an informal settlement in Chatsworth, who said she wanted her identity hidden to protect herself from political violence.

Their houses are flooded. Some people’s shacks are washed away. Some electricity poles have fallen over and the power lines are on the floor. Some places don’t have water. Some people are left homeless, even their things are washed away.”

Friends of the deceased try to recover some belongings from the house buried under a mudslide on Crimby Avenue, Chatsworth, on 23 April 2019. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

She escaped unscathed this time around, but her home was damaged in a previous storm in 2011. She had come to the church to assist others who had been displaced.

And the flood victims weren’t exempt from electioneering: “They are still trying to get that vote because when there’s a disaster, there is confusion and there are disagreements,” the woman told Daily Maverick.

Now this thing, it goes into politics. Now the elections are coming so they come and say ‘I want to help these people. I’m DA, I’m ANC, I’m ATM’. They say all these things, but they are confusing people.”

The confusion arose because instead of officials directing people, members from political parties had been giving conflicting instructions on where those displaced by the floods should go.

Nolwazi Somdizela, who lives in an informal settlement on Unity Avenue in Chatsworth, came to the church after her home was flooded for the second time this year. She told Daily Maverick that different people from different parties would come through “to electioneer”, but they “never helped anyone”.

Last year this happened by my place, it’s damaged and then some people they come say they’re going to give me help,” Somdizela told Daily Maverick. “I kept waiting, but they never came, so I still have to rebuild my shack because I don’t have another choice.”

After that, they never come until we get this damage again.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa flew to Durban after an emergency African Union summit to visit those affected by the floods in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

President Cyril Ramaphosa who had been attending an emergency African Union summit, flew back to Durban to visit those affected by the storm, with plans to go to the Eastern Cape on Thursday. Ramaphosa’s itinerary for Wednesday, 24 April, included visits to Amanzimtoti, Chatsworth, Umlazi and Marianhill.

The KwaZulu-Natal ANC branch had initially planned on sending a delegation to visit families affected by the flood, but decided to postpone until Thursday, 25 April, due to the presidential visit.

When we heard about the disaster that had befallen our people here in KZN and the Eastern Cape, we felt that we needed to come and see for ourselves,” said Ramaphosa.

We pass our condolences to the families of those who died in this terrible disaster. Loss of life is never something that pleases anyone, particularly when it happens unexpectedly.”

Ramaphosa began the morning at an Amanzimtoti house that had collapsed, with only about a quarter of the original structure left standing.

Johan Fourie’s house in Amanzimtoti, Durban, collapsed during the storm on 22 April 2019. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

Johan Fourie, the owner of the house, said three days earlier he had reported improper drainage to the councillor and community members said there was a sinkhole in the road.

The drainage system here was a terrible problem since November last year,” Johan Fourie, who had been staying in the house for two months, told Daily Maverick.

Fourie said he had gone to see the Stormwater and Roads Department after his garage flooded, but was dismissed with no solution being offered.

He just told me there’s a lot of email complaining about the system and they’re busy working on it. Well, three-and-a-half days later this is the result.”

The night of the storm, 22 April, Fourie was knee-deep in water, trying to empty some of it out of the house. While doing that at around 1am, he heard his neighbour’s wall collapsing. Alerted by the sound, Fourie quickly gathered his wife, grandson and two dogs with everyone getting outside just as their own house collapsed down the embankment on which it stood.

According to community members, there had been a sinkhole on the road in front of the house prior to the storm. The sinkhole indicates that the road had been built on weak soil, near the beach, that had not been reinforced. This caused the road to collapse inward with the heavy rainfall, taking Fourie’s house with it.

The ground in the surrounding area remains unstable, with officials saying they are trying to get people out of the neighbouring houses for fear the ground may continue to collapse.

My grandson was behind me and the floor started cracking – about half a metre – and I jumped and he jumped. We ran and with that, the whole bar went and with that, the jacuzzi went and with that, the whole lounge went, and it was devastating.”

Everything is down there now,” continued Fourie, gesturing at the pit of dirt where his house once stood. “Everything I worked for is gone.” DM.

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