CAPE OF STORMS
‘Only faith keeps the people going’ — Sandvlei residents struggle to rebuild lives after September deluge
A month after the Western Cape storms, Sandvlei’s residents near Macassar continue to grapple with the aftermath, some returning to their damaged homes in search of normalcy, while others remain sheltered in the communal embrace of the town hall.
A month has passed since the intense rainfall during a storm in the Western Cape caused massive devastation, wreaking havoc on homes, roads and infrastructure. Extensive flooding, thunderstorms, gale-force winds and rough seas lashed the Western Cape, leaving a trail of destruction in many formal and informal settlements.
Sandvlei, between the Eerste and Kuils rivers, near Macassar, was one of the informal settlements hit by the excessive rain overnight on Sunday, 24 September 2023 that affected an estimated 10,000 Western Cape residents. The storms left homes waterlogged and belongings ruined.
Charlotte Powell, the City’s spokesperson for disaster risk management, told Daily Maverick that many residents are still unable to return to their homes due to lingering mildew and damp.
“The City’s environmental health department has conducted an inspection and they are currently awaiting feedback on the situation. This feedback will help determine when it will be safe for residents to go back to their homes.”
Daily Maverick revisited Sandvlei on 26 October 2023, a month after accompanying Gift of the Givers on its visit to provide aid to residents on 26 September 2023.
Delea Graaf (50) was among the Sandvlei residents affected by the storms. She and her two children, the oldest being 27, initially found shelter in the Macassar Town Hall with about 14 other families. Daily Maverick met Graaf at her house, to which she and her family returned a week ago after spending three weeks at the community hall.
She said that after three weeks of cramped living conditions and limited privacy, they decided to return home, even though parts of their property are still damp.
“We slept in the hall and I had to come back because there is no privacy, and there is two basins where more than 14 families had to wash. I have two kids, the oldest one is 27,” Graaf said.
‘We just try to survive’
Another resident, Anna Davids (70), said: “We just try to survive. It is only faith that keeps the people going on, only faith.”
Parts of Davids’s home were ruined, including her bed which has been put outside to dry.
She said her faith in the City of Cape Town and its support, had been shaken by the apparent lack of response from the City.
“In the faith we need to see the hand of the City of Cape Town, and say ‘we are here for you, we are a City that actually cares’. That is what we don’t see, we don’t see the City.”
Carline Cookson (63) too sought refuge in the community hall with her children, Cornea (25), Denver (31) and Jerome (40).
“It was a nice thing for the community to be together [at the hall], but as the days grow, you want to be at your house,” she said.
“The biggest thing is you are not private, and you are not on your own and you can’t do what you want, what you normally do, like your normal things in your house, and I think that is what is bringing people and say ‘let me start over’.”
Cookson’s family decided to move back into their home, hoping to restore their lives to what they were before the floods, able to go about their daily activities without constraints.
In their struggle with the aftermath of the disaster, some Sandvlei residents remain in the Macassar Town Hall while others are slowly moving back into their damaged homes, according to Pastor Mark Baatjies, a community leader and chairperson of the Greater Macassar Civic Association.
Baatjies said he was concerned about the apparent absence of the City of Cape Town.
“The City don’t care. Even if they can’t do nothing, they should just come here and give people moral support. If you go to these private estates, you will see, it looks like it’s another country, they don’t have these problems,” he said.
He argued that City authorities need to take responsibility for the safety and well-being of their citizens, especially when it comes to preventing construction in flood-prone areas.
“Now they want to blame other people and say that people are building on the river, but they are there, they are in charge, they must tell the people that ‘you can’t build here but build there’. They will tell you that they spent billions and billions on other areas but here they don’t spend billions,” added Baatjies.
The pastor made it clear that residents feel neglected, believing that City officials prioritise affluent areas over those in need.
In response, the City of Cape Town told Daily Maverick it has activated its teams to help affected residents. Spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said: “Soft relief efforts continue. The City’s human settlements teams have also enabled affected residents to be accommodated safely in the relocation area.”
“The City’s Informal Settlements Management Department had transversal efforts with Disaster Risk Management and a number of other departments and organisations to assist with relief and dealing with post-flood site challenges.” DM