South African churches, community organisations, individuals and the private sector are pulling together to help the thousands of people affected by ongoing flooding in parts of the country.
Precious Thabethe from Ivory Park, east of Johannesburg, is trying to restore order in her kitchen after flooding destroyed one of the room’s walls. She has put some plastic and corrugated iron in its place to cover the gaping hole.
“The water comes fiercely from the east, that’s why this side of my house is destroyed,” she said. “I know it’s not safe for us to continue living here because we might get swept to our deaths by the water if it continues to rain, but right now we have nowhere to go.”
Thabethe lives with her sister and three children in a modest three-roomed house. She saved up for six years before she was able to build her home, and feels she is not ready to let go just yet. “I’ve always wanted my kids to have a home and I built this place for them. I’m really not ready to just walk away from it.”
She says the floods have destroyed most of her valuables, and they have been relying on help from her church and food donations to keep alive. “The church donated clothes for us and school uniforms for the kids – all our things got destroyed in the first week of January when the floods hit us.”
The local supermarket has been giving out food parcels and various churches are collecting blankets and clothes for families who have lost their belongings. “Those of us whose homes have not been affected are also taking children into our homes, so they are cared for and can continue to attend school,” said MmeMaThato Mokoena, a member of the Methodist Church in the area.
The Department of Social Development said the flood damage to infrastructure so far amounts to about R160-million (US$23-million). According to the department, 123 people have died as a result of the flooding and 20 000 people across the country have been affected. Most of the deaths have been reported in KwaZulu-Natal province, but fatalities have also occurred in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape.
Thandeka Ciliza from Uthungulu in KwaZulu-Natal has lost two family members and her home in the devastating floods. “My brother and my nephew passed away while trying to cross a bridge two weeks ago. The water was too high and too strong, the bridge collapsed and swept them away. It’s the worst way to start the year. I have lost my family and my home.”
Ciliza said a community organisation called Sakhile has helped her pick up the pieces. “Sakhile collected money from the community to help us bury our loved ones, and they have been providing food, clothes and shelter to us after our house was flooded.”
Ciliza said she is still trying to rescue some of her possessions from the destroyed home. “I’ve been going back to collect whatever I can find from our old home. It hurts to see our home destroyed, but I am grateful for the help we have been receiving.”
Absa, South Africa’s largest retail bank, has donated a R1-million ($142 061) to the government to provide urgent relief to communities affected by the floods.
Maria Ramos, the group chief executive at Absa, said the bank hopes the donation will encourage other companies in the country to do the same. The bank has also created a relief fund for cash contributions from individuals and private organisations.
“With wet weather conditions set to continue over the next few days over various parts of the country, the situation could become even more dire. The fact that certain farming communities have also been affected could further impact the country’s economy,” said Ramos.
Mobile phone giant Vodacom has made R500 000 ($70 995) available for those affected and launched the Vodacom Red Alert initiative, which urges customers to donate money towards flood relief efforts.
Small-scale producers are among the hardest hit by the deluge. Many farmlands have been destroyed and stock lost due to burst river banks, with the knock-on effect of workers losing their jobs.
Thabani Grootboom worked in a small farm in the Northern Cape, but is currently unemployed because the water-logged land cannot be worked. “There is no work at the farms. The damage is heartbreaking. Farmers are devastated and looking to government to help them recover. Hopefully, one day, they’ll be able to start farming again.”
The Department of Agriculture recently warned farmers living along the Vaal and Orange Rivers to move their livestock to higher ground as more flooding was expected. Five flood gates have been opened at the Vaal Dam, one of the country's largest constructed waterways.
Government spokesperson Linda Page said they were closely monitoring other large dams in the country like the Bloemhof Dam in the North West, Gariep Dam in the Free State and the Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape.
Social Development Minister Bathibile Dlamini said her department was forming a task team comprising Tiger Brands, the South African Council of Churches and Gift of the Givers to deal with the aftermath.
She said her department had already provided some aid to those affected, but raised concerns that it was not reaching victims soon enough. She encouraged all South Africans to join in and help.