22 February 2023
A mother from Komani, in the Eastern Cape, has described the traumatic ordeal of having to stay on the roof of her shack with her three-year-old while they waited for flooding to subside this week.
At least three people are confirmed dead and hundreds of families have been left homeless after two weeks of heavy rains and flooding in the Chris Hani District Municipality.
Severe flooding started on 7 February and hit again last Friday, affecting areas in Enoch Mgijima, Dr AB Xuma, Intsika Yethu and Emalahleni Local Municipalities.
Flood victims say they have lost all their food, clothing, furniture, livestock, vehicles, birth certificates, IDs and other important personal documents. Some government departments, churches and civic groups including Gift of the Givers have intervened to provide food, blankets and to help people apply for documents.
Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality has confirmed that its drainage system has been crippled by the floods.
The Silvertown and Gauteng informal settlements were badly affected as water from the rain-swollen Komani River swept through the shacks, destroying homes, cars and many other belongings. Many people have blamed a poor drainage system and the overflowing Bonkolo Dam.
Siyeva Mfengu from Gauteng informal settlement says she had to spend the night on the roof of her shack as water rushed into their home. “Last Friday the water was at the level of my neck. My husband had to lift me and our daughter [aged 3] on the roof of our shack because there was no way out. He used the fridge to step up and push us on the roof,” she said.
Mfengu said she remained on the roof, in the cold and dark, all night holding her daughter under a plastic sheet. “I still can’t believe we survived. I’m chubby so I could feel the shack’s roof shaking because of my weight. I could hear people screaming and calling for help,” she said.
“I have lost everything. Our lives are on hold because we can’t make any income for our family because we used to sell chips and sweets from our house. We need new IDs and certificates to restart our lives,” she said.
When GroundUp arrived at Gauteng informal settlement on Tuesday, Nomzamo Xipu was mopping water and mud from her shack. “When I opened my door the water was by my breast level. I tried to save my TV but the current overpowered me. Neighbours screamed for me to climb on the roof of my shack. I managed to get up as the water flooded our shacks very quickly,” she said.
“I watched in disbelief as my clothes, food, furniture and important documents washed away,” she said.
Zukile Ngxabazi of Silvertown, a father of four, became tearful as he told GroundUp how his 47 pregnant sheep had been swept away by the floods this month. “I can’t sleep at night because these floods have destroyed my source of income. I just cry because this is a big blow for my family.”
He said he relied on the income he made from the sheep alone to support his children as well as his three brothers who are unemployed.
Bulelwa Ganyaza, spokesperson for Chris Hani District Municipality, said rescue teams are still searching for missing people who may have been swept away. Two people were swept away in the Qumanco River in Cofimvaba and another woman was confirmed to have drowned in the Komani River by floods on Friday night.
Ganyaza said that many bridges had collapsed in the Emalahleni Local Municipality region, while low-lying bridges and roads were severely damaged in Komani.
“Informal settlements such as Thulandivile, Silvertown and Queendustria in Komani were severely affected. About 145 people have been placed at Gali Thembani,” she said. She added that the departments of Home Affairs, Education and Health are also assisting flood victims.
Loyiso Khowa, spokesperson for Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality, said officials are assessing the damages in affected communities. He said 227 emergency housing units will be erected for victims as announced by MEC for Human Settlements, Siphokazi Lusithi. “Service providers for this project have been appointed. They are waiting for material to be delivered before the actual work starts. Work is expected to begin within the next 14 days.”
He said that the municipality’s drainage system has been clogged by the recent floods and teams currently out trying to clear catchpits [a chamber installed in a drainage system to prevent a build up of silt and debris that cause blockages].