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Devastating KwaZulu-Natal floods deal another blow to r...

Business Maverick

PROVINCIAL DISASTER

Devastating KZN floods deal a new blow to recovering economy and businesses

Prospecton in iSipingo, south of Durban, where containers were scattered by the floods. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Just as businesses and residents were finding their feet after July’s unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, the province has been hit by heavy flooding.

The timing of torrential rains and widespread flooding in KwaZulu-Natal couldn’t have been worse for the province’s economy.

KZN is still recovering from the effects of the violence and looting in July last year that claimed many lives and cost the province R20-billion in lost business. Almost 80 shopping malls were destroyed, putting 150,000 jobs at risk. Over 2,000 retail stores were also damaged and looted, and the tally of affected businesses (mostly small and informal ones) reached 40,000.

Almost nine months later, large businesses (especially retailers with big warehouses) were making headway in rebuilding their operations and confidence was returning to KwaZulu-Natal’s economy. 

Now, two days of heavy rains – much of it in and around Durban – have wiped out some of those gains.

Tragedy in KZN as floods cause devastation, mostly for the poor in informal settlements

The flooding and collapse of roads, bridges and buildings in parts of the province will be a major setback to KZN’s recovery from the July unrest, said Palesa Phili, CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

She said it was too early to determine the cost and extent of the flooding, which has caused extensive damage to major highways like the N2 and M4 and claimed up to 45 lives.

“Any loss in any part of this economic infrastructure for an unspecified period will have a devastating impact on the manufacturing, travel and tourism, agriculture, and many more, and this inevitably causes huge loss through operations and expenses in business. Many businesses cannot afford further losses as they are still recovering from the 2021 July unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Phili.

Clinton Holcroft, the head of a Durban-based company, agreed that the floods were “another blow” to KwaZulu-Natal’s economy. 

“This storm damage will have long-term repercussions on infrastructure and deal another blow to businesses and people who are trying to get back on their feet following the July riots,” Holcroft told Business Maverick

A security guard crosses the mud-blocked Stapleton Road on 12 April 2022 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Flood damage

There have been scenes of highways forced to close, bridges washed away, shipping containers that have floated onto flooded roads and stranded trucks that have been looted. 

Prospecton in iSipingo, South of Durban where containers were scattered in the area.
Photo: Mandla Langa

The floods have also brought down telecommunications and forced the suspension of shipping activities at Transnet terminals.

MTN said on Tuesday that 500 sites were down in KwaZulu-Natal, the result of infrastructure damage and power outages due to the rain. Technicians were working to restore connectivity to areas like Umlazi, Chatsworth, Amanzimtoti, Scottburgh, Ballito, Umdloti and Salt Rock. 

Transnet has temporarily suspended operations at its Durban terminals. It has also told its customers to hold back on bringing trucks into the port to avoid congestion, especially at Richards Bay, where its terminals and railway lines are operating at limited capacity. These terminals are an important part of the economy as they connect South Africa with landlocked countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. 

Businesses will be among the hardest hit by the latest disaster. 

“Small businesses may not have adequate insurance to recover their losses, thereby jeopardising their existence and sustainability going forward. If these losses are not recovered, over time the local economy can suffer significantly,” said Palesa Phili.

Part of Caversham Road in Pinetown was washed away on 12 April 2022 in Durban, South Africa. According to media reports, persistent heavy rain in parts of KwaZulu-Natal has resulted in widespread flooding. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Stormwater drainage infrastructure

Many in the business community say the damage was made worse by a failure on the part of the provincial government and the Durban municipality to maintain drainage infrastructure and prepare for eventualities such as these. 

Now, the Durban Chamber of Commerce has called for the government to undertake a “serious review” of the stormwater drainage system along the road networks. 

It wants the local and provincial governments of eThekwini to share their disaster management plans, including their programmes of infrastructure maintenance and development to improve drainage and traffic congestion. 

“There needs to be a serious review of stormwater drainage systems related to our local and provincial road networks to ensure that rainwater can easily drain away,” said Phili. DM/BM

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  • This is extremely tragic for the people affected, but was largely avoidable. It is untenable that maintenance to infrastructure is left undone and uncontrolled settlement occurs along waterways and in low lying areas. The M4 verges are in a badly overgrown state, causing water to build up and burst through when something gives. When is government going to act responsibly?

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