Durban flood victims living in squalor accuse government of not keeping its promises
We spoke to families living in emergency accommodation near the city centre.
Many families who have been living in emergency housing since the devastating floods in April last year are accusing the provincial government and municipality of failing to keep promises made to them after the disaster. Many have also complained about the living conditions at the emergency units.
The floods had wreaked havoc across most parts of KwaZulu-Natal, claiming the lives of at least 435 people, with many people still missing. The floods were devastating for thousands of people as many homes and surrounding infrastructure were completely destroyed.
Many of those whose homes were swept away and severely damaged have been living in Transitional Emergency Accommodations (TEAs) near Durban city centre. According to people living there, government officials had promised to help them by paying for school fees and scholar transport to various communities, food vouchers and employment.
The provincial Human Settlements department said that most of the 11 TEAs are large blocks of rental flats in or near the city centre.
GroundUp visited three of the TEAs in Point Road and Astra building in Russell Street, and one in Frazer a few kilometres outside Tongaat. Human Settlements had a 24-month lease agreement on the two buildings in town and the Frazer property is owned by the municipality.
Nomvula Mnguni is one of the community leaders at the TEAs in Point Road. Mnguni said that most of the occupants had lost their homes in areas such as Umlazi, Isipingo and Zwelitsha. The building has seven floors with current occupancy of 113 adults and 199 children.
We were met by a group of about 10 women in one of the rooms. They explained that each room has four or five single beds with two refrigerators. Some rooms are shared by different family members. The toilets and kitchen are shared by all of the occupants.
We were told that many parents are still struggling to get their children to school in the communities that they come from. While some children have been forced to relocate to schools closer to town.
Mnguni showed us a list of about 24 learners who are struggling to get to their schools in Umlazi because of a lack of scholar transport. “We have been knocking on the door, asking for assistance with no luck,” she said.
Mnguni said taxis charge each learner R950 per month. “Most people here are not working. We rely on child support grants. Now they have to choose which days to go to school and as parents we can’t expect them to pass at the end of the year,” she said.
Mnguni highlighted the stories of two teenagers who have not been able to return to school because their parents cannot afford to pay school fees since they had to move.
Nompumelelo Melemela said her 17-year-old daughter is in matric at a school in Umlazi. They depend on her daughter’s child support grant. “Life is tough and our children are suffering the most. I used to work at the factory in Isipingo but it was destroyed by floods and has remained closed. Transport to Umlazi is R950 and the grant does not cover it. For now, my daughter skips days and tries to attend classes over weekends when she can.”
“It’s sad and very frustrating. Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do. I wish the department could provide the scholar transport it promised then I would only have to worry about food,” she said.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education spokesperson Vusi Mahlangu acknowledged that they could not accommodate all the affected learners in the last financial year. He said that efforts are underway to do so in this financial year.
Mahlangu could not say how many learners are waiting for school placement and transport. Mahlangu did not respond to questions about how the department would resolve the scholar transport issue.
At the Astra building in Russell Street, occupants also share the rooms which have about 531 single beds. It accommodates flood victims from Verulam, Umlazi H, Chesterville, Mount View, Ntuzuma H and Inanda. People living here also complained of scholar transport, fees and unemployment.
One of the occupants, Ntuthuko Yalo, said, “We were told that the department will pay everything needed at schools including stationery and school uniforms, but that is not happening. Most people here are not working.”
Yalo said some people who were informal traders in Verlam can no longer sell their goods to make money because they don’t have a permit to operate in the city centre. “We were promised EPWP employment but when we got here we were told that there are other people in this ward who are still on a waiting list for municipal jobs. People here are always fighting about food. It’s chaotic,” said Yalo.
He said when they were moved into the building in November from the community hall, Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube gave them each a R800 food voucher. “We were told we will receive the vouchers until we leave but in February they stopped without an explanation. People are suffering,” he said. Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube’s spokesperson, Gugu Sisilana, denied that any promises of food parcels were made.
Teenager Aluthando Ndlomo said his living conditions are not ideal because he shared a room with older men who live their own lifestyles. He goes to school in Inanda. Every morning he takes a taxi to school and pays R50 for a return trip. His mother is unemployed, but his older sister who works, gives them money.
Ndlomo said he still has flashbacks of the floods. “Me and my mother were trapped inside our shacks for hours before we were rescued. But I don’t like to talk about it,” he said.
According to KwaZulu-Natal Department of Human Settlements spokesperson, Mlu Khumalo, people were placed in the shared rooms according to family size, gender, age, marital status and health conditions.
Khumalo said flood victims requested to be housed closer to the city centre in the hope that they will have better chances of finding jobs.
Khumalo said 16 parcels of land in various parts of eThekwini and Msunduzi have been set aside for the construction of over 3,100 RDP houses for qualifying flood victims.
At the old municipal houses in Frazer, the rooms looked weathered and dilapidated with some broken windows, toilets and leaking roofs. There are two water tanks but residents say they have been dry for weeks. There are eight shared flushed toilets for the 300 people living there but these also rely on water from the tanks.
Community leader Lihle Dazela said they believe officials have forgotten about them. “We were told that the municipality will fix the other old building at the back. We are still waiting,” he said.
“There are no street lights. We reported the fallen pole and they have been promising to come fix it,” said Dazela.
Following our question to eThekwini Municipality, spokesperson Lindiwe Khuzwayo told GroundUp that a team had been sent to Frazer. She said the City sends water tankers daily to the area to ensure the community always has water.
“We encourage those who do not receive water to communicate with the ward councillor so that the relevant department can ensure that they also receive water,” she said. DM
First published by GroundUp.