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Storm-ravaged, waterlogged districts count their losses as volunteers rush to nourish communities crippled by devastation

Storm-ravaged, waterlogged districts count their losses as volunteers rush to nourish communities crippled by devastation
Train tracks underwater along the banks of the Nuy River next to the R60 near Robertson, on 26 September, 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Western Cape communities have been affected by three relentless days of heavy downpours and strong winds. People were left without food, water and housing and many areas have been blocked off and inaccessible as roads were swept away. Government and private organisations have assisted affected communities. During a visit to the flood-ravaged areas, Daily Maverick discovered that in some cases, it was waterlogged community members themselves who helped with warm food, mattresses.

After a weekend of rain and storm devastation, on Sunday 24 September Julie Abrahams and her husband Hendrik had just stopped feeding 3,000 people at a community outreach in the small town of McGregor in the Western Cape when something told her to return home to Bredasdorp. 

Montagu bridge closure, storm devastation

A cyclist turns towards the detour to Montagu as the bridge over the Kingna River, the town’s main entrance, is flooded, on 26 September, 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

When the Abrahams crossed the N2 en route home, the road collapsed. The couple took three hours in total to get home, but as soon as they arrived, Julie started cooking soup for people in her community affected by the heavy downpour. 

This act — to assist those in need — was a common theme throughout Daily Maverick’s recent visit to affected areas in the Western Cape. Although Julie — a local pastor in Bredasdorp — provides soup weekly to community members in need, the weekend’s rain saw her provide soup for more than 200 people.

In Bredasdorp, roads were damaged, homes flooded and several people were left with damaged electrical appliances. The weekend saw destructive weather, leading to extensive damage in several towns coupled with blocked access due to heavy rains and strong winds, which left bridges and roadways destroyed. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Downpours and gales wreak havoc across Western Cape over the heritage weekend

“I heard what happened and told my husband, now we need to fall in here,” said Julie.

The Abrahams feed about 150 people weekly from their own pockets — Julie was unemployed while Hendrik relies on a state pension grant. “And I’m a pensioner, you can talk to Mr Ramaphosa to increase my pension,” joked Hendrik when Daily Maverick visited their home this week as Julie started to cook soup to serve the community. 

Julie Abrahams and husband Hendrik

Julie Abrahams and husband Hendrik in their new home. Hendrik uses his pension to buy the ingredients for Julie to cook food to help feed the community in Bredasdorp, on 27 September 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

In another part of Bredasdorp, Magda Windvogel from the Bredasdorp Nutritional Centre told Daily Maverick when the call came from ward councillor Renier Louw (ANC) to start preparing food for people, “we were already busy cooking soup”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Flooding aftermath – Gift of the Givers rolls out huge operation to assist 10,000 Western Cape residents 

The centre — which feeds more than 100 people every day — had initially been closed for the public holiday on 25 September. But while the rain poured, the six women who worked in the centre stepped up to cook.

“We cooked seven pots of soup,” said Windvogel. Initially, they fed around 200 people, but as Tuesday and Wednesday came, even more people were fed. 

Windvogel said her own home was flooded during this time — including in her kitchen, bedroom and bathroom — which forced her to cook while also trying to attend to her home. The other women from the centre who helped also experienced similar struggles, with flooding inside and outside their homes. But they carried on feeding people. 

Magda Windvogel cooked seven pots of soup for her community in Bredasdorp. 27 September 2023. Photo: Shelley Christians

“It was a nice experience to see our people look for each other, You don’t take note of what someone else is doing, you put your head down and work,” she said. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape of Storms

Tourists stuck in the downpour

It was not just in Bredasdorp that people rolled up their sleeves and worked. In Ashton, guest house and garage owner Cheryl Nel was trying to assist stranded tourists. 

“I had a Swiss couple who were supposed to go [to] Montagu, they couldn’t get through. Even though the geyser had a problem, they didn’t have water — they were happy,” she said. 

While travellers, including tourists, were stranded, Cheryl and her employee Poppie van Wyk served warm food while the rain poured and roads were blocked. Nel had to refer people to nearby churches as her accommodation was fully booked. She told Daily Maverick the Montagu-Ashton Tourism Association had been trying to assist stuck travellers throughout the region, with churches and members of the public being called in to assist stranded individuals. “I had an old lady here who was so tired and I didn’t have a bed for her. I can bring her a mattress,”. 

With laughter, Nel added: “She said she doesn’t know if she’d be able to get off the floor”. 

Sir Lowry’s Pass

A mudslide ripped through Sir Lowry’s Village after a storm. Cape Town. 27 September 2023. Photo: Shelley Christians

While mopping-up operations began and some roads reopened, communities in areas such as Sir Lowry’s Pass were trying to recover their losses. Cousins Wendy Seim (43) and Maretha Myburgh (30) were unable to access their Wendy houses. Water had flooded thie homes on Sunday night and sand had blocked the water from draining out. 

Sir Lowry's Village mudslide, storm devastation

A mudslide ripped through Sir Lowry’s Pass Village after a storm. Many shacks were covered by mud with water still trapped inside of them, on 27 September 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“They’re been trying to clean up the road, but what about us?” said Seim, who had lived in a settlement called Uitkyk after being evicted from a farm 20 years ago. The cousins have nothing but the clothes on the backs and scant personal belongings such as an identity document, children’s birth certificates and a cellphone belonging to Myburgh. Gift of the Givers has also sent relief to the community. DM

Sir Lowry's Pass Village, storm devastation

Helper Mbukwana digs a path for the water trapped in his shack while his partner Yoliswa Mfinyieze rests on the roof of their car in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, Cape Town, on 27 September, 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    The gullible mouthpiece of the ANC/EFF speaks again. Mcgregor has a total population of 3100 people. Just quickly made food for al of them in the storm and then in the storm to Bredasdorp and when the ANC councillor speaks to Bredasdorp as well!!!!!!!!! Denise Smit

  • Denise Smit says:

    Of course you deliberately omit that the only governmet that had to manage the devastation was the DA government. The ANC/EFF has up to now not do anything to help the Western Cape in this category 9 one in 100 years devastation. They have not even mentioned the storms in cabinet except to say that other provinces must also be prepared. Shame on you. Denise Smit

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