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Public Protector probes billions in unspent government funds meant for 2022 KZN flood relief efforts

Public Protector probes billions in unspent government funds meant for 2022 KZN flood relief efforts
The Astra building in Russel Street in central Durban is currently used as emergency housing for victims of the April 2022 floods. (Archive photo: Manqulo Nyakombi)

Auditor-General recently revealed that KwaZulu-Natal only spent R251-million of the R5.8-billion budget allocated in the aftermath of the 2022 floods.

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka is investigating allegations that the KwaZulu-Natal and national governments have failed to provide adequate assistance to victims of the devastating floods of April 2022.

The floods wreaked havoc across most parts of the province, claiming the lives of more than 400 people. Many people are still missing, presumed dead. Thousands of families lost their homes and personal belongings.

Read more in Daily Maverick: KZN floods exposed vulnerabilities in local structures and disaster response — South Africans should not forget

Most of the families affected were moved from the townships into about 11 large blocks of rental flats in or near the city centre, which were converted into emergency housing.

In April 2023 GroundUp reported on the living conditions at the emergency housing units. Families living there accused the provincial government and eThekwini municipality of failing to keep promises made after the disaster. They said they had been promised food vouchers and help to find places in school and pay school fees.

In June, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke said that KwaZulu-Natal had only spent R251-million of the R5.8-billion allocated for flood relief. Recently, eThekwini municipality had to send back more than R300-million to the National Treasury after it failed to spend its conditional grants within the stipulated time.

Following these reports, community activist Elias Muller told GroundUp that he asked Gcaleka’s office to investigate whether the provincial and national governments had failed to help flood victims, particularly with the provision of scholar transport for learners who now live far from their schools.

He also asked the acting public protector to investigate whether the decision to stop food vouchers to families in emergency accommodation — a decision he considers “irrational” — was improper and irregular.

“The government seems to be failing to take the necessary measures or steps to ensure that the dignity and privacy of the KZN flood victims is urgently restored. Government seems not to be prioritising these victims,” said Muller.

Ndili Msoki, acting spokesperson for the Public Protector, confirmed that the matter has been assigned to a senior investigator.

Flood victims brace for another winter in emergency housing

GroundUp spoke to some of the flood victims we visited in April. They all said the situation had not changed or had worsened.

At Point Road emergency housing, residents said the provincial human settlements department had denied access to visitors.

Resident and group representative Nomvula Makhosi said some of the residents had left their children in the care of relatives and close friends while they were crammed into community halls. She said many of those children had not been allowed to move into the emergency housing when their parents were relocated.

“We tried to fight, but we failed. Some of our children had to remain with family members. Now we are told that they are not even allowed to sleep over,” said Makhosi.

She said they heard government officials on the radio saying that all is well, “but that is not true”.

Makhosi said the KZN Department of Education had told families to deregister learners from schools in Umlazi and send them to schools closer to the emergency housing. But many were in grades 11 and 12, and moving them would affect their progress.

“The department promised us scholar transport but now they are backtracking,” she said.

In April, education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi told GroundUp that the department could not accommodate all the affected learners in the last financial year, but that efforts were underway to do so in this financial year. However, the department has since slashed its scholar transport budget from R459-million to about R266-million.

Mahlambi said the budget cut would affect those who are still waiting to benefit from scholar transport.

KZN Human Settlements spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi said the department is working with eThekwini Municipality and the Housing Development Agency to revise and review house rules following complaints by residents at the emergency housing units. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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