from NJABULO BUTHELEZI in Durban
DURBAN, (CAJ News) – “FIRST, COVID-19, then the riots last July and now this.”
This lamentation by aid worker, Fernaaz Hussain, sums what has been undoubtedly the most horrendous period in post-independence South Africa.
The worst floods to batter the country in 60 years, with the death toll ticking towards 450, elicited the lament.
It comes months after deadly rioting left over 300 people dead after former president, Jacob Zuma, was jailed for contempt of court.
Hussain is an aid worker at the Islamic Relief.
Such is the gravity of this disaster in South Africa that even those that have pledged a commitment to save victims of disasters have been rendered helpless and, as they set out to recover the bodies of missing victims, also are desperate for rescue.
Hussain is the media coordinator for the Islamic Relief South Africa in Durban, the epicentre of the deadly floods. It was the epicentre of the deadliest violence in post-independence South Africa in July last year and has at times been the epicentre of the most severe outbreak of the COVID-19 in Africa.
Hussain recalls how after picking her daughter from school and the water was rising speedily she could see it coming over the doors.
The roads were becoming so waterlogged she had to try several routes before she got home.
“Then it just got worse and worse. I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Hussain said.
The Islamic Relief was one of the first NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) to respond to the humanitarian crisis.
“Our staff and volunteers braved the harsh weather condition to deliver food packs, water, mattresses and blankets to people who lost everything.”
Hussain is lucky to have lived to retell her ordeal, which feels like child’s play considering the severity of the crisis unfolding in this south-eastern province which has the city of Durban at its peak the tourism capital lauded as South Africa’s playground.
The floods have since turned this historic city and the province at large into the country’s graveyard.
Emergency services, affected families and volunteers have been racing against time and tide to retrieve bodies of loved ones from the rubble.
At least three search and rescue police officers and a police dog drowned while searching for flood victims.
Mortuaries have battled an upsurge of lifeless bodies.
All this paint a grave picture, adding to revelations the government had not heeded warnings by weather experts of the disaster.
The National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa has reported the government’s mortuaries were battling to cope with bodies that are piling up at the morgue.
The organisation has proposed that the provincial government release bodies without conducting post-mortems.
“If there was a way to skip the post-mortems, we would appreciate that bodies be viewed and declared that they can be released,” Muzi Hlengwa, head of the funeral practioners association told media.
The KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Premier, Sihle Zikalala, however denied the mortuaries were not coping.
He appealed for patience among families that have lost their loved ones.
“We wish to assure them that we are doing the best we can under the circumstances,” Zikalala said.
Health minister, Joe Phaahla, on Wednesday said of the 455 bodies recovered, 377 had undergone post-mortems.
The remaining post-mortems were to be concluded the following day.
Now, as the floods subside concerns about corruption rise.
There are fears the money allocated for the reconstruction of the afflicted province might not reach intended beneficiaries.
The government has set aside R1 billion (US$66,5 million) in aid to help rebuild infrastructure after the floods.
Some countries have also pledged financial assistance.
This week, the African Union (AU) donated R2,26 million for reconstruction efforts.
The donation is from AU’s Emergency Fund.
South Africa is synonymous with tragic levels of corruption, even during previous disasters, hence fears the funds could be stolen by government officials.
Some funds, including the $4,3 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), secured as a response to the COVID-19, were stolen.
A number of leaders, some allies to President Cyril Ramaphosa, were caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Then-health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, was fingered. He later resigned.
Khusela Diko, presidential spokesperson at that time, was also linked to COVID-19 graft but was cleared.
There was furore after reports indicated Zikalala had at his disposal the use of an entire water tanker, while many communities across the Durban metro area did not have reliable access to drinking water.
This has been cleared and the minister has apologized after explaining the water was meant for residents but the tanker was delivered at a time he was not at home.
Cilliers Brink, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, said the party would make specific proposals to the National Assembly on how to strengthen the oversight powers of Parliament and prevent the abuse of power and public money under a national state of disaster.
“Having ignored the DA’s proposals on how to prevent the abuse of disaster relief funds at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Ramaphosa would be well advised to listen what we have to say this time around,” Brink said.
Zikalala insisted measures would be put in place to curb the theft of funds and resources.
“There must be no tolerance for the abuse of funds,” he assured.
“We will put in place several measures to protect funds and ensure procurement is cost-effective and fair,” he told legislators.
The Office of the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the Human Rights Commission have pledged to ensure funds were duly used.
– CAJ News