Maverick Citizen

COMMUNITIES IN CRISIS

Western Cape communities reel from effects of storm, Gift of the Givers responds in 17 areas

Western Cape communities reel from effects of storm, Gift of the Givers responds in 17 areas
Nolwando Sohuma, a resident of Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, walks through the flooded area around her home. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

As strong winds and heavy rains continue to cause havoc across the Western Cape, the nonprofit Gift of the Givers has been providing disaster relief supplies and support to those in need. Residents of flooded informal settlements are calling on the government to provide suitable land and housing as the onset of winter weather threatens their homes and well-being.

Communities across the Western Cape have been devastated by the strong winds and rains that struck over the weekend. Nonprofit organisation Gift of the Givers has been inundated with calls for help. By Monday, 8 April they were active in 17 areas, providing disaster relief supplies such as food, blankets and toiletry packs.

Daily Maverick accompanied Gift of the Givers to Lwandle and Nomzamo, neighbouring township districts in Strand, Cape Town, where they provided aid to 1,500 people. Residents queued outside the local community hall to receive emergency supplies as rain continued to pour.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EXPLAINED: Seven climate tipping points that could change life as we know it

Western Cape storm

People queue outside a community hall to receive emergency supplies from Gift of the Givers in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, on 8 April 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Western Cape storm

Bongi Tomsana and Zanele Beba wait in the queue outside a community hall in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, to receive emergency supplies from Gift of the Givers on 8 April 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Zanele Beba, one of the residents queuing for aid, said they were still shocked by the intensity of the storm, adding that it had been a few years since they had experienced one that severe. Her home was badly damaged by the strong winds.

“Now it just leaves us with no homes. We’re wet, we’re just squeezing into neighbours’ homes. All the stuff we have is damaged – furniture, even food. Everything’s a mess,” she said. “Even some of the proper houses, the roofs are gone. And they damaged the other houses and the cars [when they were blown off].”

Nonprofit organisation Gift of the Givers distributes food, blankets and toiletry packs to residents of Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, who were affected by the recent storm. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Beba was queuing alongside Bongi Tomsana, a mother of two children aged seven and 15 who feared the storm would return before she and her neighbours had a chance to rebuild their homes. 

“I know there’s going to be a lot of storms this winter… We need to rebuild but we don’t have a chance now. We’re busy trying to find the stuff and the material [but] when you go to the places where they sell it, they say they’re out of stock. Everything is sold out already,” she said. 

She called on the government to provide suitable land and housing for the people living in the informal settlement: “Government can also find a place or land to build proper houses for the people and relocate the people who deserve the houses. But there’s lots of corruption here in South Africa, that’s the problem… You just wait and wait.”

Gift of the Givers visited local homes that had been damaged by the storm. Many had lost roofs or walls, while some were still filled with several centimetres of water. The surrounding streets and paths were flooded with water and sewage owing to the blocked storm drains.

Bongiwe Nonkenese, a 44-year-old mother, tries to sweep water from her home in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Water pools around the home of Bongiwe Nonkenese, a 44-year-old mother living in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Lwandle resident Bongiwe Nonkeneze was trying to sweep water out of her home when they visited. She has been living in the same place since 2010 and says that in all that time she has seen no real improvement in living conditions in the area.

“We don’t know how we’re going to manage. We don’t have electricity, we don’t have anything,” she said. “Each and every year, there’s a crisis here… I feel ashamed and alone. 

“It’s coming to voting time now and still, there’s nothing… I’m standing here with a broom and moving water… We’ve got nowhere to go. We ask the government, take us somewhere, rehouse us.”

Nonkeneze emphasised that she wanted a better life for her children: “We need a change here. It’s very painful… We are trying our best. I don’t know what I’m doing but I must do something as a mother.”

Ward 86 councillor Xolani Diniso takes Gift of the Givers around Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, to see the damage caused by the recent storm. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

ANC councillor Xolani Diniso, who oversees Ward 86 encompassing Lwandle, said the local councillors had submitted a winter readiness plan calling on the City of Cape Town to help unblock storm drains in the area, but added that the only “permanent solution” to the problem of seasonal flooding was the provision of proper housing to local residents. He said it had been more than 20 years since a housing project had been undertaken in Lwandle.

Daily Maverick asked the City of Cape Town about housing concerns among residents of Nomzamo and Lwandle. Carl Pophaim, the mayoral committee member for human settlements, said the City “continues to advocate that residents do not settle on land not fit for habitation or where there are no provision for services”.

Portable toilets in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, were blown over by strong winds during the recent storm. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

“The city has active programmes in place to reduce the health and safety risks of informal settlements and in its Human Settlements Directorate alone has budgeted R1.8-billion over the medium term to enhance services and upgrades,” he continued.

“However, informal settlements are unplanned by nature, often on uninhabitable land and subject to the reality of finite resources. The management of informal settlements is not paid for by the national government transfers and there is much pressure on resources such as budgets, suitable land and human resources. The City has an active presence in informal settlements and some of the highest degrees of delivery of any metro in SA, where feasible.”

The City aimed to use a mixture of formal, gap and social rental housing to address the housing crisis, along with upgrades to informal settlements and enhancing access to basic services.

Gift of the Givers members navigate flooded paths while visiting damaged homes in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town. 08 April 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Zahid Badroodien, the mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, said the directorate had been doing extensive work in areas across the city to reduce the risk of sewer overflows. This included sewer and pump station maintenance, cleaning sewer pipelines and inspecting illegal stormwater-to-sewer connections at properties.

“Recently, the City’s water and sanitation operations team was working at Michael and Lonja streets in Nomzamo to clear a sewer blockage caused by blankets, vehicle tyres, rags, sand and other foreign waste objects in the sewer network,” Badroodien said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Better safe than sorry’ — hundreds of Western Cape schools remain closed over storms threat

“Residents can help us reduce sewer overflows. This can be done by not using toilets, kitchen sinks and sewer drains like dirt bins… Sewer systems are designed to only convey human waste, greywater and toilet paper. Any other solid substances will eventually cause blockages and overflows.”

Gift of the Givers in action

Gift of the Givers has been on high alert since last Thursday, when it was informed by Western Cape Disaster Risk Management that severe weather would be hitting the region over the weekend. 

“Our main concern, we were praying that with the strong winds picking up there would be no fire, and then a mega-fire hit on Saturday around 5pm when the community and businesses of Kayamandi called us, informing us the informal settlement was on fire,” said Ali Sablay, operations manager at Gift of the Givers.

On Sunday morning, the organisation responded to the situation in Kayamandi, where strong winds were blowing about zinc sheets and other debris from the fire. The decision was made to evacuate residents to local community halls. Gift of the Givers committed to providing food for the evacuees for the next five days.

“Then while we were leaving that site, we received our first call for assistance due to strong winds in an area called Donkerbos in Somerset West where a tree destroyed about 20 homes, leaving people displaced. We assisted them [and] they were staying with community and friends,” said Sablay. 

On Monday, Sablay said the organisation received requests for help from 17 communities in the Western Cape. “We’ve split our teams. One team is focusing on the N2, from Nomzamo down. We have a team focused on the Cape metropole area – Khayelitsha, Wallacedene, Kuils River – they’re assisting those victims. And the team on the N1, doing the Drakenstein and the Cape Winelands areas.

People gather in a community hall in Lwandle, a township in Strand, Cape Town, to receive emergency supplies from Gift of the Givers. 08 April 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

“There are daily… meetings with the Western Cape Disaster Risk Management teams but in those meetings are all the local municipality disaster risk management teams. They are in communication with us informing us on how the weather patterns are changing. So, if needs be, we are equipped to assist. We have called in additional resources in terms of goods from our warehouses in KZN and Johannesburg.”

On Tuesday, the organisation helped an additional 480 people in Nomzamo. Teams were also dispatched to Mbekweni township, Paarl East and the town of Saron. Sablay said the organisation would also provide assistance in George and Oudtshoorn, where extreme downpours have led to roads flooding and schools being closed. DM

Those wishing to donate funds for the Gift of the Givers disaster relief operation in the Western Cape can call the toll-free number 080 078 6911 or visit their website.

Items for donation can be dropped off at the Gift of the Givers office in Cape Town. Among the items needed are blankets, personal hygiene products and baby care supplies.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Both my retired gardener and domestic, 2-3 times a month lived in the area in brick houses built for them, so untrue to say no building. The gardener also had a Government house in Dordrecht, gaming the system,…he is retired to there.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Gift Of The Givers are a wonderful organisation, led by a remarkable man, and who shame every government department and most private enterprise.

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